Black Snow: a story of love and destruction by Jon Tattrie came to me as an interloan from the Ottawa Public Library. Thomas Joyce is a veteran of World War I who returns home to Halifax only to suffer another trauma, that of the Halifax Explosion. Tattrie tells this story across different periods all chronologically mishmashed, from Halifax before Thomas is deployed overseas, to the muddy trenches of death in WWI Belgium, to postwar Halifax in December 1917. I was never confused by the temporal hopscotch although the very beginning when Thomas suffers a flashback about a trench attack did make me wonder how Tattrie would direct the story. It was seamlessly knitted together so I always knew where I was and I could keep all three storylines separate.
For a brief novel of 192 pages, action is on overload and the pace moves along rapidly and realistically. Chapter Thirty-six however ended with such an eye-rolling come on–when Evie learned that her husband Adam had died in combat I just knew how Tattrie would end it. I even predicted the final three words. Reminded me of Summer of ’42. I could only tut-tut and shake my head. A levirate marriage follows, and then the story of a new groom shipping off to war repeats.
The explosion brings the war to Halifax and Thomas looks for Evie, not knowing if she is alive or dead. We are left wondering why Evie doesn’t worry about the same thing, but Tattrie has otherwise preoccupied her in the story, which we discover near the end. Tattrie inserts a fictional account of the discovery and rescue of Ashpan Annie, where Thomas is the hero.
Stories of life and death–and there is a lot of death–in the trenches will rivet you. I could feel the cold muddy water filled with chunks of flesh and human waste swirl around me as I stood hip-deep watching the battle unfold before me. Tattrie did a remarkable job writing about the horror and disgust of war.