In Deep River, a planned community on the Ottawa River, Olympic-bound gymnast Kay Clancy literally flips into the waiting arms of Joe LeBlanc, who catches not only her compact body but her heart as well.
Before she has graduated from high school in the 1960's, pregnancy interferes with Kay's athletic career. But as the wife of Joe LeBlanc, Kay is happy, a mother of three: Estelle, Louis and Margaret. The only cloud on the horizon is Joe's penchant for disappearance - the first time before Estelle's birth - but returning in time to claim mother and child. The second abandonment is more disconcerting, when Joe disappears while Kay is carrying yet-to-be-born Margaret, whose name Louis shortens to Margar.
While the LeBlanc clan thrives with Joe the focus of their domestic harmony, across town another family struggles with the fragile bonds of family. Kay's coach, Russell Halliwell, inspiration of Olympic hopefuls and bon vivant of Deep River, is married to Marie, the beauty he romanced and wed in Rome.
Rotund, bespectacled Eddie is the Halliwells’ only child, a bitter disappointment to his athletic father but a consistent comfort for the often-melancholy Marie. Eddie isolates himself, turning to drawing for self-expression, but frequently finds himself on the cusp of an ungovernable anger that takes him to a dark and savage place.
As the story evolves in Olympic-year intervals, Kay is the keeper of family secrets, complicit in the events that drive Joe from his home but unable to change what she has wrought; she is "the brave-faced mistress of whitewash," never revealing her fears or suspicions about her missing husband. The LeBlanc children grow up without the presence of their father, Margar with no memories of Joe and spending the rest of her life searching for him in pictures and crowds.
Louis remembers shrieking with glee in his father's arms. Eventually an Olympic hopeful like his mother, Louis stops growing after his father leaves, but Kay buys a trampoline for the backyard that both terrifies and excites the little boy: "He was so afraid, but so compelled to jump, that fear clung to the soles of his feet and desire grabbed the tips of his fingers. Together, they stretched him."
Equally heartwarming and heart-rending, Origin of Haloes is an intimate family saga constructed of infinite details, weaving a colorful fabric of disparate lives snagged by shared experiences and knotted together in a secret past. As in her previous work, den Hartog takes the small intimacies of ordinary lives and fills them with the daily dramas that form the centerpiece of her writing, skillfully portraying pathos, disappointment and personal redemption.
The characters assume human dimensions: Kay's desperate belief that happiness can be built upon a lie, Marie Halliwell's gradual loss of the rigid control that staves off her unhappiness, Eddie Halliwell's observant quietude and Margar's inchoate yearning for Joe, the only LeBlanc child with no memory of her father. Set in the rural Deep River, this is the Canada beloved by the author, where people and place suggest endless combinations of individual joys and grievances against a bucolic background.