Room Magazine review

An unidentified flying object crashes in the water just offshore of small fishing village Perry’s harbour, Nova Scotia. Perry’s then becomes overrun with secretive government agents, alien lovers, and media. The few locals of Perry’s Harbour try to go about their business of day-to-day living but find that their lives change unalterably by the experience.

It sounds like science fiction, but Anne DeGrace based her third novel, Sounding line, on a historical incident. In 1967, a UFO was reported to have crashed off shore of Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia. A mix of science and historical fiction, Sounding Line offers the best of both subgenres in true literary fashion. DeGrace’s tale focuses on the people of Perry’s Harbour, on Pocket Snow, the teenaged artist whose mother Merle is dying of cancer. On his Uncle Scratch and his father Wilf, who are trying desperately to cope with the loss of Merle as she slips away from their realm and into the beyond. DeGrace’s tale follows the town bully and his lonely friend Ernie, Rodney the rookie journalist sent to cover the story, the storekeeper Shirley, and the psychic Wanda who come to town to communicate with the aliens.

The way in which DeGrace tells this tale is nothing short of exquisite. She begins by defining a sounding line as “a line marked at intervals of fathoms and weighted at one end, used to determine the depth of water.” Thus before the story begins, the reader has already begun to think in terms of darkness and depth, weight and the unknown. The she starts with the lights. Lights over water, movement, and incongruent silence. The crash. The witnesses. The story has begun.

The pace of the novel ambles as slowly as time passes in a small fishing village, but the story is nonetheless compelling. There is breath and breadth in the writing. The telling of the tale is full of space and silence. We feel as if we are standing at the end of the wharf right along with Pocket Snow, staring into the harbour and sounding its depths.

As we delve into the lives of the Perry’s Harbour locals, it becomes clear that DeGrace has written a novel through a perfect metaphor. Her authorial sounding line plunges into the water, into space, into life and death, alien and belonging, human and love.


Review by Fiona Lehn, Room Magazine Vol 33.1, spring 2010 Back to book >>