Lyla Hage Reviews a Novel Exploration on Randomness and Unpredictability
In her second novel, Instructor, St. John’s-based writer and poet Beth Follett tells a story infused with painful experiences, feelings of loss and longing and glimmers of joy and celebration.
The novel begins with Ydessa, a successful professional whose husband dies in a plane crash on Baptiste Lake in Ontario’s cottage country. Ydessa escapes to a cabin overlooking the lake, for a two-week period of mourning. She stays three months, spending time with people who have an unexpected and lasting impact on her and each other.
Follett draws the reader in with rich detail about the setting and Ydessa’s mismatched group: Barri, Ydessa’s no-nonsense landlord and cabin neighbour; Teresa, Barri’s friend and small-town yoga instructor who introduces Ydessa to the practice; and Henry, a nine-year-old, neglected, motherless, inquisitive child who shows unsettling maturity and wisdom. Over the summer, quiet and meaningful connections are made, with grief, pain, longing and love shared and exchanged.
In the fall, Ydessa spends time in New York with her wealthy mother-in-law, where, trying to make sense of her life, she makes decisions that baffle those who know the “golden girl of Toronto real estate.” She spends a decade at an ashram in Vermont, studying, learning and seeking answers through yoga and meditation. The story picks up 15 years after her husband’s death, when Ydessa, now living a new life in Toronto, meets up with an older, troubled and grieving Henry. They reconnect, dramatically altering their lives.
Follett’s take on the randomness and unpredictability of life, as well as the often-unexplained ways people are brought together, resonates with me. While the characters are appealingly complex and flawed, their thoughts and actions felt somewhat underdeveloped and unexplored. The characters sometimes feel jarringly distant, leaving much to piece together and unravel. At times, I became perplexed about the inclusion of some plot points.
In my mind, Follet’s writing, though impactful and poetic, can, at times, be confusing and distracting. I believe this would be a more fulfilling read with extended exploration and insight into the characters, their backgrounds and their actions, as many of my questions were left frustratingly unanswered and unresolved.