Richards, David Adams: Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace

Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace
David Adams Richards
McClelland and Stewart, 1990
Softcover (Mass Market Paperback)

First published in: Haliburton County Echo, County Life
Summer, 1998
Review by: Kerry Riley

Ivan Basterache lived a short, small, brutal, unappreciated life in a little town in northern New Brunswick. Outwardly inconsequential, his story is one which will, I suspect, continue to haunt its readers, as it did me, long after the last page of David Adams Richards’ book, Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace, has been turned.

The book opens as a minor scandal is unfolding around Ivan. A marital dispute over money with his pregnant bride of ten months, Cindi, had resulted in Cindi, a vacuous, slow-witted girl, fleeing to a girlfriend’s, wearing only her underwear and a bruised face. The baby is suddenly “lost.” Gossip abounds. The story, as it unfolds through the speculations and pronouncements of individuals who populate Ivan’s life, is sordid, and, we are invited to believe, depressingly inevitable (given the people involved, you understand).

Isolated, uneducated, and inarticulate, Ivan has none of the protective outer armour that society requires of its heroes. Yet, at the hands of Richards, and despite early impressions, he begins to emerge, entirely on his own terms, as someone truly noble–not perfect, but still noble. Patient and kind with his new bride, intolerant of cruelty, personally fearless, and with an ability to see, and pursue “right” with a clarity that escapes others, in the end he turns his back on his first real chance at a future and dies a ludicrous death trying to right another’s wrongs.

“Fine,” you think, “Ivan is misunderstood.” But the town’s reaction goes far beyond misunderstanding. Time and time again he is betrayed by the people around him (most tragically by his father)–sacrificed to clandestine motivations which nobility tends to arouse in lesser souls, the seeds of which reside deep in our human natures. The real tragedy is not so much his death (which is, despite its senselessness, quite glorious) but that the truth of his life dies with him. He leaves (with the possible exception of the old town doctor) no sympathetic witness.

David Adams Richards would be, I suspect, a difficult person to have around. Anyone who can recognize and articulate, so subtlety and precisely, the basic impulses that drive human behaviour, would represent a formidable opponent in any argument. Luckily, his voice is also a compassionate one.

He is, at this point, a relatively well-known figure in Canadian literature. Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace is his second book set in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick. The first, Nights Below Station Street (1988) won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and the sequel, For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (1993) was recently adapted for radio by the CBC. According to the McClelland & Stewart publicity department, we can expect another novel from Mr. Richards this fall, entitled The Bay of Love and Sorrows. [see subsequent review] I look forward to it as a major event on my reading calendar.

Readers and critics alike have described Richards’ writing as powerful–and I have no argument with that assessment. Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace, is a bravura performance–an unforgettable story told simply and directly with a voice that never wavers. Its curious mixture of hope and desolation–hope that such a spirit as Ivan’s flowered at all in his environment, and desolation because it was so little nourished there–will trigger thoughtful pauses long after its conclusion. Late summer afternoons,  when the sun has gone all soft, and there’s a hint of elegy in the air, provide the perfect setting for an exploration of this book. Leave lots of time for thinking.

See also:

Richards, David Adams

Past Reviews/1998 to 2003
Archived: July 20, 2010

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