The Equations of Love

by Ethel Davis Bryant

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Ethel Wilson was born Ethel Davis Bryant. She married Wallace Wilson when she was thirty-three years old, and she published The Equations of Love when she was sixty-four. If the stories in the book are any indication of the vicissitudes of her love life, she had a rough time indeed. They're sour, ironic tales of everyday people who have the most incredible luck, good and bad. The turns of luck are so unbelievable, in fact, you end up wondering why, and that leads you to the conclusion that Ethel Wilson's characters are just playthings, vents, outlets for some disappointment she suffered in her life. Except that what we know of her life isn't that disappointing. So, her characters must be something else. They must have another purpose.

Mort and Lilly have their flaws and their insecurities, but they could be you or me. Their choices could be our choices, and, at a stretch, you might think their lives could be our lives. But how does Mort end up dead, out for a stroll with Eddie? How does Lilly end up married after running away from predatory men for so long? There aren't any clues in the story. That's a key to the irony and tragedy of Wilson's characters, but it frustrates an understanding of the stories themselves. It's almost like there's no narrative, just two short, slippery slides down fated slopes.

And that's the real lesson of the book. If such incredible things can happen to such ordinary people, maybe we should all just get on with it and get along. Which, when you think about it, is a very Canadian attitude. Ethel Wilson once quipped there was no "Canadian novel," but it seems she wrote one. She's famous for making her stories about somewhere, and most of the time you get where she's coming from, literally, because somewhere is very important to the plot or to the development of her characters. In this book, though, that's not the case. The actual location couldn't matter less. The character of the characters, though, place them firmly in Canada.

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