by Leo Brent Robillard
Turnstone Press, 2015
“Resonating with the familiar” is the phrase that leaps to mind when I think of The Road to Atlantis. Leo Brent Robillard touches on so many places, events and experiences known to me, almost every page had me thinking, “Oh, I know what he’s talking about.”
Some of those places, events and experiences made me smile. I live in Ottawa, and I grew up in Eastern Ontario, so I know about Canterbury High School, Bon Echo, life in a government city, and the “university town on the shore of Lake Ontario.” He even referred to the Persian Gulf and the HMCS Terra Nova. My brother served on that ship during that time. Heartwarming.
Some of the places, events and experiences landed on ouchy places: female preoccupation with weight and body image, the effects of alcohol abuse on a family and the challenges of parenting teenagers. Thought-provoking.
And then there’s the loss of a child. Thank goodness that one is not familiar to me.
In Robillard’s novel, David and Anne start out on a road trip with their daughter, Nat, and young son, Matty. Along the way, a playful stop at the beach ends in tragedy. David, Anne and Matty must do the unthinkable and learn to live as a family of three, instead of four.
“. . . in a single day and night . . . the island of Atlantis . . . disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason, the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way . . .” —from Plato’s Account of Atlantis, translated by Benjamin Jowett
David and Anne find themselves in a metaphorical shoal of grief, guilt and blame mud. Poor Matty, too young to really remember his sister but living in the shadow of her death his whole life, bears the brunt of the inadequate tools David and Anne choose to try to deal with their pain: obsessive overprotection, infidelity, alcohol abuse and the bottling up of emotions.
Fathers—the good, the inflexible, the absent and the damaged—play a dominant role in the story. One of the most endearing scenes involves a carload of questionable fathers driving desperately through a snowstorm to arrive at the birth of a child.
I’m an admirer of Robillard’s work. I was once accused of “gushing” about his poetic literary style. To read a Robillard book is to curl up in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and feed your poetic soul. This novel is poetic in a starker way but, as always, his professionally lean prose deftly summarizes complex life circumstances and personalities.
“. . . the boy would never leave his own child. That took a cold mechanical precision. You had to be scalpel sharp with a selective memory. You had to be able to shut doors and never again test the handles.”
Robillard covers a lot of ground in a short book (192 pages). Concise, incisive and psyche-testing, The Road to Atlantis relates one family’s evolutionary journey from submersion to surface.
I received the book from Turnstone Press for review purposes. I was not financially compensated for this post.I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.