• Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Aug 03, 2010 3:37 PM
The Glass Harmonica
Russell Wangersky
Thomas Allen Publishers

As curmudgeonly Keith O'Reilly tinkers around the margarine tubs full of nails and bolts in the workshop attached to his house on McKay Street one blustery February evening in 2006, he peeks out the window and witnesses the murder of his neighbour across the street, a man simply known as "the architect." When the murderer (a pizza delivery man) turns around, O'Reilly recognizes him as Ron Collins, the son of Tony and Helen Collins who live farther down the street. From that grisly evening unfolds a complex web of histories and secrets of O'Reilly's fellow neighbours, all woven together in a complete tale that keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

The chapters of The Glass Harmonica - Russell Wangersky's first novel - skip back and forth between different years and each section is told from the perspective of a different neighbour. While this approach may confuse some readers, Wangersky tackles the method and story with a grace and ease aided by careful attention to detail - locals will especially enjoy reading about familiar locations in downtown St. John's - and rich characters so realistic they could be living next door to you.

Readers will meet over a dozen characters in the book, each fascinating in their own ways and with their own storied pasts. From the unassuming private investigator, Len Menchinton - who spends his days chasing down small-time shoplifters in chain stores, and his off-time quietly pining for his next door neighbour, Vernie Taylor, and those private moments when he can catch a glimpse of her lingerie waving like a flag in the breeze along her backyard clothesline - to Keith's son Vincent, who spends his life waiting for the moment when he can finally escape the confines of McKay Street, only to return years later, after his parents' passing, to realize what a strong grip the place still has on him after all these years.

The Glass Harmonica is akin to "Coronation Street," but much saucier and more satisfying. As readers come closer to realizing the motivations behind the murder, the McKay Street residents' dreams, desires and desperations come to light, only to slowly fade back into the darkness. It's a story not only of personal struggles and dashed hopes, but also one that shows the many intricate ways seemingly unconnected people are tangled together. As the perspective of each chapter changes, readers will sometimes be surprised at how their opinions of the characters change with it. Readers truly get the chance to walk a mile in their shoes. If you want a story that gives you a better understanding of the many ways different people view the same experience, The Glass Harmonica is a perfect fit. - Linda Browne

The Mustard Seed: The Story of St. Clare's Mercy Hospital
Katherine E. Bellamy, RSM
Flanker Press

Just like the parable of the mustard seed, St. Clare's has grown from nothing and prospered. Through the love of the Sisters of Mercy, a prosperous hospital for people in need of help bloomed in St. John's, Newfoundland. Three sisters opened the hospital in 1922, but the story begins far before the opening. Cholera, malnutrition and poverty plagued the sisters' beloved St. John's for years, claiming some of their own. They plowed on, sacrificing their own well-being for the good of the people.

If prospective readers have no knowledge of the mustard seed parable, this book may come as a surprise. It is not a novel or a guide to alternative gardening. It is more akin to a history textbook, though the content is uplifting and could be an inspiration to people everywhere. It describes the Sisters of Mercy's struggle and their determination to overcome hardships in their journey to create a revolutionary healthcare system. Through all of this, is it enough to carry the reader the entire 195 pages?

The anecdotes are riveting and inspiring, but sifting through the testimonies and background information can be tiring for readers who are not extremely interested in the background of the Sisters of Mercy or St. Clare's. That said, Katherine E. Bellamy has created something special, something people will appreciate for the pure honesty of the content and its account of a humanitarian movement that shaped the future of healthcare in St. John's. - Alyssa Fowler