Received a copy of The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review
"People with a seamless view of the world are intimidating, even when they're full of shit."
There is a highly-involved family drama that is going on in this story that is relevant to the people of Wolseley as well as to those across the country. It seems that every member of the Phimister-Glasgow clan with all of their varying personalities are going through their own personal crises and anxieties about their current place in life. All of the members of this family are troubled by past experiences, present circumstances, and future repercussions. The author is continuously on the precipice of a grand reveal while still leaving the reader in the dark with the true heart of the families disconnect.
Sylvie Phimister-Glasgow is a nineteen-year-old young lady with great visions for the world. She is a vivacious and an emboldened university student from Wolseley, Winnipeg, Manitoba whose ambitions know no bounds. The heart of her ideals are based on the fundamental principles of environmental-consciousness for which she practices on a daily basis with hopes of advancing it professionally through studying botany. She is a member of many groups that are focused on environmentally-friendly actions rather than spreading the word that often falls on deaf ears. Together, with a few of her fellow tree-huggers they're working on a theatrical play to help aid in their activism. Her voice is the strongest and most pervasive of the group which has made her the de facto leader, a role she has definitely taken to heart.
" 'Yeah, right.' Liz was eating an apple. She finished it and opened her windows, and the noise of the highway roared into the car.
Sylvie lowered the binoculars. 'Hey!'
'It's an apple core.'
'Mom! It will attract mice to the side of the road.'
'And the mice will attract eagles. And the eagles will get hit by cars.'
Most people opine that in strong relationships opposites attract. Perhaps that rule applies to more frivolous matters like favourite sports teams, but not when it comes to the environmental preservation. Sylvie's boyfriend Noah Oliphant is studying to earn his master's degree in environmental microbiology and biotechnology at the University of Guelph. They've been in a relationship for over a year and are currently trying to make it work despite not seeing each other for months at a time. Noah and Sylvie used to be best friends growing up as children. Playing in the sand, forest, and lake together is where they found their passion and saw the beauty in the world around them. But after an unfortunate accident at the playground in alliance with the overreaction of overbearing mothers of small children their friendship ended that fateful afternoon. It wasn't until ten years later at a local lake that they were able to rekindle their friendship and develop much more of a physical relationship outside of a misplaced swing. Over time and cross-provincial distance they have maintained a loving relationship from their summer at the cabin into their current lives of post-secondary students.
Sylvie has always preferred a natural way of living, making use of her food wastes, being a valued shopper at second-hand stores, protecting water systems, denying pharmaceuticals, processed goods, animal tested products and other by-products. One day Noah strongly suggests that Sylvie go against her principles regarding oral contraceptives and go on the birth control pill. He is simply doing this for his own personal pleasure and career security since he is a pledged member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. He would rather secure his values than those of Sylvie's by her facing a moral dilemma regarding contraceptions. Begrudgingly she agrees to go on the pill, but over time she feels like it is having adverse effects and a visit to the doctor will give her conclusive reasoning for her pessimism.
Liz Glasgow is the executive director at the regional Sexual Education Resource Centre. A centre that promotes safe sex and pro-choice. Liz is a very intelligent, vulnerable, well-meaning, and cultured woman that seems to come across as a know-it-all, stubborn, authoritative, and immovable mom, husband, and boss. The root of her issues with Sylvie and Aiden are not known until the end and provide a black cloud throughout the course of the novel. I know Sylvie is studying "plant" sciences, but she is not showing a whole lot of love to her mother Liz, with whom she refers to on a first name basis. Periodically Sylvie resists including her mom in typical maternal responsibilities, doing whatever it takes to avoid coming home and isolating herself to the basement if she does. After one auspicious day several years ago, Liz decided to take Sylvie to Minnesota under the appearance that they were going to go shopping at the Mall of America, when in reality the sole purpose was to go to a nearby renaissance reenactment festival after their shopping spree. At that moment in time, at that role-playing party, their lives and their relationship as they once knew it would be changed for the foreseeable future.
"Years ago, when things were so bad with Sylvie (until they settled into it, you might say), she contemplated going to a counsellor. What stopped her was knowing the way therapists operate. A therapist would set out to tear down the beautiful structure she had managed to build of her life, though given less than ideal materials That's what they do; it's their modus operandi. They strip away your ways of managing, ways that might be flawed and even duplicitous but are better than not managing at all."
Aiden Phimister has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and English, Master of Arts in English, Master of Family and Individual Therapy. He has been unable to commit to a single profession for more than ten years since he was first out of school. For the past six years he's settled down and has his own therapeutic practice which has faced plenty of struggles and provided a lack of financial security at home. Aiden and Sylvie have a healthy relationship. Aiden usually finds himself as the middleman in the lines of communication between Sylvie and Liz, but given his disposition he doesn't seem to mind all that much. Outside of the house Aiden is responsible for his father Rupert who has dementia and if we let the facts be known, doesn't have a whole lot of love for his son. With his two brothers nowhere to be found, Aiden has had his father thrust upon him. Throughout the novel he is trying to find the perfect balance between father and son, father and daughter, and husband and wife. No wonder he needs the odd weed relief, this man's plate is full.
At points I was reminded of the book We Need To Talk About Kevin. The culture, the progressive lifestyles, environmental sensibilities, love of food, varying differences of affection between mother and father all in an urban setting. Obviously the lead characters don't go as far off the deep end as the other book, but there were some striking similarities. The author writes with a contemporary, methodical, decadent, atmospheric and deliberate style that intertwines the dynamics between the darkness and the light, the past and the present, marriage and parenthood, and the beauty and the horrors that come along with it.
"The longing she feels for Noah is studying as sharp as a knife - she could cry for how much she wants him. Her breasts are all in lumps because there are little sacs swollen with milk inside them like the seeds of a pomegranate. She can't bear to think of him seeing her. Noah is one thing, whole; he's like a tree that grew up in the shape it was supposed to have. And Sylvie... she's crooked and mangled and grafted together, someone who wants so badly not to be who she is that she is no one at all. And yet, if you'd asked her anytime in the past year, "Does Noah love you?" she would have said yes without a second thought."