Monday, May 24, 2010

The Carnivore by Mark Sinnett

It is 2004, and Ray Townes, an ex-Toronto policeman is dying from emphysema. In his final days, he looks back on his not-so-perfect life. Dominating his regrets are his extra-marital affairs, although he suffers from a certain lack of remorse. He also feels he deserves everything his is willing to go out and grab for himself, which didn't endear him much to this reader.

This attitude alsorepared the ground for me to sympathise with the internal thoughts of his long-suffering wife, Mary, whose romantic, naive view of their married life changes as she comes to realise what kind of man she has married.

Included in the mix is Ray’s part in Hurricane Hazel which struck the city in 1954. His heroic actions to save lives hides a dark secret he kept during that time.

Mary was an emergency room nurse on the night of the hurricane. One patient sticks out, a woman brought in with hypothermia and semi-conscious. Through the woman’s ramblings, Mary uncovers the secrets of what really happened that night and which fuels her growing resentment of the man she believed to be perfect.

When a young, enthusiastic reporter comes calling to rehash Ray’s story for an anniversary article, Ray relives the motives for his actions on that night in 1954.

Mark Sinnett delves into the minds of Ray and Mary, whose thoughts intrude upon what they ought to feel about events in their married life. Mary harbours no illusions about Ray, and her unstinting devotion has changed over the years to a spiteful tolerance.

One aspect I found interesting was the historical aspect of the hours before Hazel struck. No one appeared to take the weather seriously – where drunks lobbed beer bottles onto the streets to watch them bob along in the water.

Ray pounded on doors and waded through rising waters in an attempt to get the locals to move to higher ground, not always successfully. I felt his anger, and then his frustration when he ended up trapped in a house with a family of five and had to bash his way out through the roof, almost becoming a victim himself.

Their daughter, Jenny, plays a minor part in the book. So minor she isn’t really worth mentioning. Mary’s views on her daughter’s lesbianism could have been handled without her silent shadow in the doorway.

This is less the story of a hurricane, more the way guilt, betrayal and resentment can poison a relationship until there is nothing left but a quiet, festering hate. The author portrays Ray’s slowly fermenting guilt and Mary’s sense of betrayal eloquently, together with her private, cruel revenge she longs to wreak on her now helpless husband - if she could.

This novel is deep and haunting, with clever cameos to illustrate a marriage that died in its early stages. However, don’t expect a happy ending. There is too much bad history for Ray and Mary to achieve that.

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