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4th January
written by Steph

My first book of 2009 was one I picked up on a whim at McKay’s, primarily because the title amused me, as did the opening line:
"The cure for death by lightning was handwritten in thick, messy blue ink in my mother’s scrapbook, under the recipe for my father’s favourite oatcakes: Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more."
I figured this would be a fairly quirky read, which it certainly was.  But what I wasn’t expecting was just how dark and disturbing a story I would be getting in the bargain; in fact, this is probably one of the most alarming and unsettling books I have ever read.  Don’t get me wrong, it was compelling and I raced through the pages (obviously, as we’re not even a full week into the new year!), but it was creepy. The Cure for Death by Lightning is a coming-of-age story, focusing on the life of Beth Weeks around the time she turns 15.  It takes place in the rugged wilderness of British Columbia, Canada, during World War II.  Beth and her family are isolated from most other families, both physically and socially (the latter for reasons I’ll not divulge), but do live quite close to an Indian reserve.  Several Native American legends are told throughout the novel, which as a whole has a mythical/magical quality to it.  I thought Anderson-Dargatz very skillfully wove these tales into her story, as they heightened my expectations that something otherworldly could happen.  There is an unexpected air of menace throughout the book that propelled me forward, always wanting to know what would happen next. All that said, the most upsetting things to happen in this novel simply result from the dark and cruel aspects of human nature.  When I say this novel is not for the faint of heart, I really mean it.  Call to mind sexual taboos you find most repulsive, and they probably occur in this novel.  Like I said, it’s creepy.  At times while reading I was reminded of Margaret Atwood, but there’s no way Atwood would ever be this twisted. Overall, this ain’t your grandmother’s coming-of-age tale (or at least, I hope not).  It is brutal, bloody, raw, and magical, all at once… but if you can see past all of that, there is very honest and very human story at its core.  I think that Anderson-Dargatz effectively evokes a specific time and place with skill, but I also think the writing belies some of the very mature events that take place.   Some of the events that transpire will very well be deal-breakers for some readers (I could absolutely see some labeling this novel as perverse filth and tossing it aside).  For this reason, I’m hesitant to recommend this novel to anyone else, as it will certainly not be many people’s cup of tea.  If you’ve got a strong stomach and an open mind, you might very well appreciate this novel, but certainly be prepared for long stretches of gray grimness.  Oh, and your stomach will be rewarded because also scattered throughout the novel are delicious recipes for cakes and sweets that I would love to try... perhaps as I've been embracing my inner baker lately, I just might!  But I think I'll avoid the recipe for "coyote bait"... Rating: 3.5 out of 5


  1. 01/08/2009

    I’m intrigued! I get squeamish easily, though, so it may be some time before I dive into this one.

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