New Brunswick’s libraries are full of stories of exciting locations; tales of far off lands, and stories of intrigue, drama, romance, sex… Fortunately we also have some excellent home-grown writers such as Beth Powning, David Adams Richards and Stuart Trueman who have written of New Brunswick and its people. Riel Nason is adding to that list with her own story, ‘All The Things We Leave Behind’.
Piecing together a narrative using her own childhood community of Hawkshaw, New Brunswick – from her parent’s antique shop, The Purple Barn to Kings Landing, all to create a tapestry of the province and a backdrop for ‘All The Things We Leave Behind’. The book is rich with familiar locations, the terra firma of this ‘picture province,’ but woven through the story are Riel Nason’s yarns of imaginative characters. She brings forth the tale of a young girl whose experiences and thoughts swings like a pendulum – between holding on and letting go, innocence and guilt, all demonstrated symbolically by the vivid imagery of trinkets and treasures found in the Purple Barn.
We follow the story of seventeen year old Violet struggling to cope with her grief and guilt as her parents leave to search for her missing brother, leave her to manage her family’s business. She maneuvers through the her daily work, social engagements, and her own thoughts; reflecting on days past and present, leaving it is up to the reader discern their linear pattern and extract the corner pieces and edges of the puzzle. Riel leaves clues within the maze of antique tables, Violet’s obsession with bizarre animal sightings, the predominant imagery of the local roadkill bone-yard, and ultimately dealing with the question of Violet’s missing brother.
For ‘All That We Leave Behind’ Nason draws deeply from her own experience both as a professional antique dealer and as a native New Brunswicker to enrich her stories with recognizable places. There’s a natural interest in seeing homegrown stories built around these locations, but leaves one wondering how they might be seen by someone coming from away.
“I like it when people say that they can really get a feel for rural New Brunswick, even if they haven’t been here,” says Nason. “I also like it when people say they plan on visiting. After ‘The Town That Drowned’ came out, I received many emails from people who visited the province, and even more specifically the Saint John River Valley, after reading the book. That makes me very happy.”
Nason explains just how deeply she was influenced by her own work as an antiques dealer, and the time she spent working as a tour guide at Kings Landing. She says that her experiences in the province’s historical tourist village made for a natural fit for her story.
“Antiques, things lost and left behind, the idea of living in the past, memories, and nostalgia all work thematically in ‘All The Things We Leave Behind’. The historic village was also mentioned at the very end of my previous book ‘The Town That Drowned’, so it is one of many small connections between the two novels. Plus, having worked there I knew what the experience would have been like for Jill, the character who works there in the book.”
Not all the locations in the book are true to life, some things just have to be left to the realm of fiction, and made all the richer for it. Nason’s description of the abandoned home, filled with abandoned treasures after a tragedy, is given in such detail that it’s hard to believe that the place didn’t actually exist.
“The house didn’t really exist. Most locations exist only in my imagination (including The Purple Barn) and then in the reader’s imagination too once they read the book. I have been in many old houses though and have seen many beautiful antiques over the years, so a house filled with them was easy to think up. I don’t really see the people I write about, but I see the places I write about. When I am writing I think of going to that place I have visualized in my mind. For example, I can see The Purple Barn in my mind and walk around it in my memory as if it is a real place I’ve been to.”
Perhaps the paragraph that best sums up ‘All The Things We Leave Behind’ is this one, because the book itself is like a capsule, meant to be taken in and experienced. It is a vignette of sensations, and observations that in the end amount to a story, but its strength is in the richness of those individual moments.
“I’d love to be able to summon the fullness of that wonderful feeling at will, distill it and keep it in an elegant old perfume bottle, an atomizer. I might spritz a little, or else spray it as thick as fog and breathe it all in.”