As I was saying on Monday, this Friday is Canada Day. As a way to celebrate, I will post a few reviews of Canadian short stories during the week and attempt to finish my tour of Canada through short stories (you can find links to all the stories I have reviewed here). Today, I have reached Saskatchewan with a story by Sinclair Ross (1908-96).
“The Lamp at Noon”, which is the title story of a collection published in 1968, is a typical Prairie story in which the setting becomes a kind of character in the story. The dust and wind o the dry Prairie landscape during the Depression are leitmotifs in this story and they literally drive the characters mad.
“She wanted him now, the assurance of his strength and nearness, but he would stand aloof, wary, remembering the words she had flung at him in her anger, unable to understand it was only the dust and wind that had driven her.”
The story is set during a period of dryness and the land has not produced food for a few years. The atmosphere is suffocating because of all the dust that gathers on the furniture and Ellen cannot leave the house because there is nowhere to go. The infant has problems breathing and keeps crying. However, Paul does not want to move to the city. He is too attached to the land and too proud to receive what he calls “charity” from Ellen’s family. The couple is torn by the situation created by the landscape. Eventually, Paul begins to understand Ellen’s position, although he finds it difficult to admit it. However, it is too late and when he gets home, Ellen has left, taking the child with her. He organises a search and is finally the one to find her.
“The child was quite cold. It had been her arms, perhaps, too frantic to protect him, or the smother of dust upon his throat and lungs. ‘Hold him,’ she said as he knelt beside her. ‘So – with his face away from the wind. Hold him until I tidy my hair.'”
This is a very evocative and poignant story. One can feel the love Ellen and Paul have for each other, but the landscape stands between them. Space is often mentioned when discussing Canadian literature and I think this story is a perfect example of its importance.