Wind Tails by Cherie Thiessen

A self-described ‘story vulture,’ Anne DeGrace confesses her second novel Wind Tails (McArthur & Co. $29.95) arose from a pub night in Nelson when a friend described a hitchhiker who would only travel in the direction the wind blew. A second friend added a true story about a driver who asked hitchhikers to send him postcards from wherever they wound up.

For Wind Tails, DeGrace turned the wind-following hitchhiker into an American draft evader named Pink—named after the group Pink Floyd—who has allowed a beautiful pair of eyes, along with a determination not to go to Vietnam, to bring him to Canada, and the postcard collector gets turned into Evelyn, an intellectually challenged housewife who strays further and further afield to pick up and drop off hitchhikers.

Most of the action occurs in an Alberta mountain pass, at the Roadside Café, circa 1977, on a day when the wind seems to be blowing in circles. Think of the comedy tv-show Corner Gas, transferred to the Purcells.

Cass, the owner of The Roadside Café, still mourns the baby she gave up, and the niece her sister spirited away from her. Archie, a truck driver, keeps coming back, and not just for the coffee.

One day Archie picks up Jo, a dispirited 19-year-old who has dropped out of university, and he brings her like a lost puppy to Cass, the nurturer of lost souls. Jo is on the run, and her distressed parents don’t know exactly why—but her mother has an inkling. It was an ill wind that brought her daughter home unexpectedly one fateful day to discover they were both sharing the same lover.

Bob, the local policeman, is too softhearted to be a cop and quite happy to pay the price by being stuck in a backwater. Not only does Bob help deliver babies whilst on duty, he joins Pink in smoking a few joints, subsequent to chasing him through the forest for trespassing in an old cabin.

Add to the mix a rich boy who may have killed his father’s partner, an angry young American who threatens Pink because he didn’t fight in Vietnam, an old woman who camps out near the café, a water witcher coming to terms with his unwanted abilities, and a dying and doughty old woman who wants to see her sons again, and you’ve got the makings of a fairly normal Kootenay town.

Along the way a tiny character appropriately called Pixie orchestrates another meeting between Jo and Pink by telling them about a campsite and handing out a map. With me so far?

Basically, what we have is a series of mini-stories whirling around a central place and a premise: if you are open to interactions with strangers and willing to let the wind take you where it will, you can find your own direction more quickly.

What these characters have in common is the road they travel on, the café where they all wind up, if only for a glass of water, and their effect on Jo, so fragile it feels as if a slight breeze will scatter her. As delicate as a dandelion gone to seed, Wind Tails feels as if a slight puff of breath will send all these characters and their stories off with her–a Kootenay-inspired fairy tale for grown-ups.

Born in 1960, DeGrace is a librarian, illustrator, photographer, volunteer and mother who made waves with her first novel, Treading Water (2005), based on the fate of Renata, a community submerged under 35 feet of water by the erection of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam.

So we have had water, and we have had wind. Fire might be next.

— review by Cherie Thiessen

Return to Book >>