Phyllis L Humby’s gritty new novel Old Broad Road (Crossfield Publishing 2020) rattled more than a few old windows in a thunderstorm. It made me cry like a sudden outburst of rain, earning a five-star rating on Goodreads for its ability to move me so unexpectedly.
How did she do it?
By slowing the pace and quietly introducing the reader to Newfoundland’s warm hospitality before unrolling the yellow caution tape and hammering the reader not once but several times towards the end of the book.
The novel opened innocently enough with Torontonian protagonist Sylvia Kramer seeking a fresh start in Newfoundland after divorcing her husband of several decades. The reasons for the divorce are not clear at the beginning but it was obvious Sylvia was traumatized enough to want to leave her adult children and young grandchildren behind.
Written from the first-person point of view, the fictional 330-page story used the clever metaphors of purchasing and remodeling an older home to strengthen the main character’s new foundation. Often it reached deep into the attic of the protagonist’s mind, revealing her inner fears and concerns.
“Pretending was part of my healing process…Nighttime was when I ranted and cried. That’s when I felt old and unhinged.” (p. 8-9)
What happened next was a gradual building of major and minor characters (a real estate agent, motel owners, a shopkeeper, housing contractors, a tattoo artist, a Russian wrestler, a clerk, an interior decorator, a dog, etc.) who provided support, humour, sorrow and even fits of anger to Sylvia’s new life.
Although, I didn’t always connect with some of the people in the novel, Humby did an excellent job of creating realistic and believable characters. The dialogue and Newfoundland colloquialisms enhanced the storytelling.
At times, I found myself skimming over some of the lengthier details especially Sylvia’s obsession with food, kitchen gadgets, and interior decorating. This was more a reflection of my own interests versus a criticism of the character who described bottled rabbit, seal flippers, wine, screech, and other delectables as part of the sturdy framework of her personality.
According to Sylvia, “Nothing compared to sharing stories over food and drink.” (p. 184)
By the time I settled and got comfortable in the protagonist’s new home, the pace quickened. The author added several twists of lemon-laced suspense, and then sliced up an onion-heart or two for the caribou stew. My eyes watered and several chapters later, I was bawling!
What a plot twist! I never saw it coming!
As the protagonist stated earlier in the book, “Survival was up to me now.” (p. 148)
At times, I wondered if Sylvia would ever survive her challenging circumstances, and that motivated me to stay engaged and cheer for her.
Overall, a moving and memorable read!
SPOILER ALERT: For those wishing to know where Sylvia Kramer is headed next, a sequel to this book will be published by Crossfield Publishing later this year. Although, it has nothing to do with the quality of the author’s writing, I wished the line “The End of Part One” had been deleted from the end of the story. For me, it took away the powerful last thoughts of Sylvia as she forged forward on her heartwarming, life-changing, and inspirational journey.
ANOTHER DISCLOSURE: Although the author and I are friends and I had read earlier drafts and sections of the manuscript, this posted review reflects my professional views of the final published version which was purchased from an indie bookstore for my enjoyment.
A Q and A with author Phyllis L Humby appeared on my blog in late September.
A review of Humby’s book Hazards of the Trade appears here.
An earlier blog post with Humby appears here.