Kitty Mowbrey worships her fiercely independent sister Willie. When the older sibling leaves home to study ballet, the Mowbrey household initially seems to gain some stability. The sudden reappearance, however, of Kitty’s grandfather, who deserted his wife and children to live in Canada with an Inuit woman named Bella Tooktasheena, sparks a yearning previously dormant in the introverted young woman. Kitty’s sense of kinship with this man leads her to travel with him on a fateful journey to his home in Labrador, Newfoundland. There, in the isolated town of Nain, she meets the mysterious Bella and experiences her first brush with passion before a disastrous trapping expedition precipitates her return to New Hampshire.
LABRADOR’s dense, imagery-laden prose adds depth to what otherwise might be dismissed as a typical family drama. Many of Kitty’s reminiscences (the bulk of the book is a monologue addressed by her to Willie) recount fantastic events that will either fascinate or perplex readers. Most frequent among these are Kitty’s encounters with an angel named Rogni, who narrates some if not all of the quasi-folkloric tale that comprise the rest of the text. Supporting characters include the Harvard University-educated school custodian Peter Mygatz, and Mrs. McGuire, the superstitious widow who helps maintain the Mowbrey’s old home.
This first novel boasts unexpected strokes of wit and a haunting finale; it is, however, marred by wearisome passages, trite characterizations, and a lack of credibility in Kitty’s excessively detailed recollections of her early childhood.