Novelist Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, “You can’t go home again” (1940).
Canadian author Mary Lawson has gone home three times. Born in northeastern Ontario, a poor, rural area, she moved to London, England, when she was a young adult. But for the subjects of her writing, she always looks back.
In The Road Ends, the third in her Ontario trilogy, she heads once more for Canada. This novel centers on the Cartwright family, especially on daughter Megan. The family has few dreams or hopes. They live what appears to be a stultifyingly boring life. The time is the 1960s.
The father, Edward, is the town’s banker, highly esteemed and trusted. The mother, Emily, is just that: mother. Although when he married her, Edward thought they might travel, explore life together (“She let on she shared my dreams of seeing the world and I was innocent enough to believe her,” Edward muses.) He has discovered that she only wants to make and suckle babies. At night Edward reads books about European history and reminisces of his father. Even when present, he is an absent father. By the book’s closing, the couple has eight children, one born every year or two. Megan is the only girl, the surrogate mother. The oldest boy, Tom, leaves home to move to Toronto where there are educational, cultural and economic opportunities but soon moves back home after a crisis. He remains despondent for a long while.
Megan, 21, has to make a decision to stay in her town to help her mother, as
she has always, or to make her own way elsewhere. Surprisingly, when she speaks
with her father about her options, he offers her money to make a move to London,
where she has a Canadian friend whom she has promised to visit. She hesitates and then joyfully jumps on the idea.
However, she is aware what she is leaving in her wake. Her mother spends most of her time in bed, either pregnant or nursing the newest child. She seems to lose interest in her
children as they grow. As Edward is away all day, when Megan leaves the nest, they hire a housekeeper to help with daily chores. The woman does little. But because
the patriarch is not at home, and the older boys are in school, no one notices how bad things become.
Eventually, Tom realizes how hideously his parents are neglecting the younger children, in particular four-year-old Adam, who is living in the most deplorable conditions. Of course, he contacts Megan. Because of the times and their
father’s status in the community, few neighbors intervene in their affairs. When Megan receives the news of her family’s situation from Tom, what is she to do? Stay and stabilize her adult life in a city that she has begun to enjoy, or return and resume her mothering role?
In London, she learns about good taste, art and antiques. Her life seems to be coming together. Megan’s heart is torn, and yet another emergency is about to enter the equation. For the reader, where “the road will end” is never totally apparent, but the author ends the story in a most satisfactory manner.
This novel is about responsibility, religious faith and the lack of it, and pride. Even though these characters
are flawed, they are (for the most part) quite empathetic. There are few drugs or alcohol. These characters go through life as though blindfolded, playing out a scenario set in place before they were born until somehow it all goes wrong.
Although this reader preferred the author’s first, award-winning book, Crow Lake, this third in the series is rewarding. The characters, like many of us,
face limited possibilities in the only ways they know, slowly attempting to make the wisest decisions they can.