The Cure for Death by Lightning

The Cure for Death by Lightning

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by Gail Anderson-Dargatz
     
 

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Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s evocative first novel–a richly atmospheric coming-of-age tale novel set on a remote Canadian farm in the midst of World War II–reveals an assured and original voice.

The Cure for Death by Lightning is the story of Beth Weeks, a young girl whose life is thrown into turmoil by her abusive father, a

Overview

Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s evocative first novel–a richly atmospheric coming-of-age tale novel set on a remote Canadian farm in the midst of World War II–reveals an assured and original voice.

The Cure for Death by Lightning is the story of Beth Weeks, a young girl whose life is thrown into turmoil by her abusive father, a mysterious stalker, and her own awakening sexuality. But friendship with a girl from the nearby Indian reserve connects her to an enriching mythology, and an unexpected protector ultimately shores up her world. The novel is sprinkled throughout with recipes and remedies from the scrapbook Beth’s mother keeps, a boon to Beth as she faces down her demons and discovers what she is made of–and one of many elements that gives The Cure for Death by Lightning its enchanting vitality.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The year is 1941. For the Weeks family on their frontier farm in Western Canada, life is brutally hard, with moments of joy few and far between. Fifteen-year-old Beth Weeks narrates this coming-of-age story, which is sprinkled with recipes, home remedies and useful homesteading advice (e.g., how to kill and clean a chicken: keep it calm, since "there's nothing as frustrating as trying to kill a panicked chicken"). Though the inventory of authentic period detail is evocative, make no mistake: this is no warmhearted tale of pioneer life. Forget square dances and barn raisings; think bestiality and incest. Beth's tortured, demanding father, mentally ill following a traumatic bear attack and the lingering effects of a head injury he received in WWI, goes on one rampage after another. Beth, meanwhile, does her best to fight off various sexual predators, finding solace of sorts in a tentative love affair with Nora, a troubled half-Indian girl. But Coyote, a sinister shape-changing spirit, stalks them and others, infusing the plot with a weird mystical aura at odds with the hardscrabble realism of the descriptions of day-to-day life. A dysfunctional Little House on the Prairie, this bleak, violent saga is a disturbing mixture of period minutiae and grim supernatural phenomena. (May) FYI: The Cure for Death by Lightning is based on a short story that won the Canadian Broadcasting Company's literary competition in 1993.
Library Journal
Evil lurks just below the bucolic surface of life on a farm in western Canada in the early days of World War II. Along with the arduous tasks that fill a typical farm day in the Forties are the added stresses of blackouts, rationing, and labor shortages. Fourteen-year-old Beth Weeks also has to contend with an erratic father who, after an encounter in the bush with a grizzly, becomes violent and abusive. She retreats for comfort into an intimate relationship with a girl from the neighboring reserve and into the well-worn pages of her mother's scrapbook, which contains family memorabilia, wonderful recipes (all included here), and folk remedies such as the title cure for death by lightning. Woven into this evocative coming-of-age novel are Indian legends, ghost tales, and mystical happenings in a manner that recalls Louise Erdrich at her best. Powerful and moving, this is highly recommended.-Barbara Love, Kingston P.L., Ontario
School Library Journal
YABeth Weeks turns 15 during the early 1940s, when most of the eligible men in rural British Columbia have enlisted. Her older brother remains to help with the farm and to protect her from their father, who received a head injury in World War I and is a violent and unpredictable man. Beth's mother talks aloud, regularly, with her own long-dead mother. Beth comes of age under great obstacles. Her mother refuses to believe her when she tells how other kids torment her, so she stops going to school. She is sexually innocent but instinctively fears her father, and when he rapes her, she withdraws, knowing she can say nothing to her mother. It is her friendship with Bertha Moses, a Native American, and her extended family that sustains her. The community is wrestling with several problems, and it is Bertha who explains that all the bad things that are happening are caused by Coyote, the notorious shape-shifter, who is present, though disguised, and wreaking havoc. The characters are brilliantly portrayed. The writing is spare and powerful: the rape scene is brief and wrenching; the loneliness of Beth and her mother is painful. The writing is wonderful, and the details are just right, but this book is not easy to read. Mature YAs who seek to challenge and stretch their minds will find this a memorable novel.Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Joanne Wilkinson
Set in 1941, this evocative first novel tells of the hardscrabble life of 15-year-old Beth Weeks, who lives on a farm in western Canada. Suffering from mental illness brought on by a bear attack, her father has sullied the family's reputation, and Beth is tormented by her schoolmates and the townsfolk. Faced with endless farm chores and her father's abusiveness, and continually haunted by the fear that something is following her, she starts an affair with Nora, an emotionally disturbed half-Indian girl. Woven throughout the narrative are recipes from her mother's scrapbook, which also contains folk remedies, such as the cure for death by lightning: "Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more." With a strong dose of Native American mysticism, detailed descriptions of the harsh work required to run a farm, and a gripping sense of place, Anderson-Dargatz combines disparate elements to create a most unusual coming-of-age tale.
Kirkus Reviews
A gritty but homespun debut that renders farm life as a mixed bag of vibrant colors, bad smells, and uncontained sexuality.

It's 1941, and 15-year-old Beth's days—between milking cows, shoveling manure, and rambling through the menacing wilderness near her family's dairy farm in western Canada—are very full. Her father is a tyrant who's both sexually and physically abusive. Her mother, a healer and a wonderful cook, seems badly cowed: Her attempts to protect her daughter are ineffectual, and she'd rather deny than confront the fact that Beth's muscular beauty is setting everyone in the vicinity on edge. Two young farmhands from the nearby Indian reservation harbor crushes, and a schoolmate's interest culminates in a violent assault. Nora, a young half-Indian woman, also lusts after Beth, and the pair's sex-tinged friendship allows Beth access to the reservation world that is usually off- limits to outsiders. The playmate/lovers listen to the ominous warnings of Nora's grandmother about a murderous coyote spirit that may be behind several mysterious deaths. Finally, Beth's father carries one of his vendettas too far and is carted off to an institution. Her mother, meantime, buckles down and copes, while Beth taps into the power of her anger and confronts a malignant stranger (or is he a coyote spirit?) head on. Atmospherics are the real strength here: There's lots of raw down-on-the-farm unpleasantness, such as a bloody, bungled operation on a cow. Nature weighs in with showy effects. And there's a bracing vision of female strength: Kitchen wizardry (recipes are included) is complemented by less traditional virtues, such as the ability to clean the barn, patch up quarrels, and use a firm clear voice to challenge and scare off potential assailants.

A robust but richly observed coming-of-age story, then, of a complex young woman whose growth and resilience are celebrated without an iota of sentimentality.

From the Publisher
"Superlative … A coming-of-age story like no other, by turns charming, funny and terrifying … Anderson-Dargatz’s prose is lyrical, precise and infused with offbeat humour; she magically – and realistically – paints the details of rural life in wartime British Columbia. Beth Weeks – strong, confused, abused, touched by magic and blasted by lightning – is simply one of the most engaging young heroines in years."
The Globe and Mail

"This is a haunting, stunning debut … overlapping the mundane with the extraordinary, Anderson-Dargatz creates a multi-layered tale of considerable power and suspense."
The Toronto Star

"Some first novelists tiptoe. Not Gail Anderson-Dargatz. She makes her debut in full stride, confidently breaking the rules to create a fictional style we might call Pacific Northwest Gothic. Its spookiness doesn’t settle like a Southern miasma; it breaks like thunder from a calm sky and rolls invisibly away."
Boston Sunday Globe

"Gail Anderson-Dargatz has a noticing eye, a voice as unique as the countryside she writes about, and a heart large enough to love her entire cast of distinct and memorable characters. In The Cure for Death by Lightning she fashions an irresistible song out of the joys and dangers of growing up, the mysteries and wonders of life on a farm, the thrilling terror of trying to outrun the awful unseen force that pursues a growing girl. This novel opens a door to a shining, surprising world."
—Jack Hodgins

"Those who go hunting for ‘the next Margaret Laurence’ or ‘the next Alice Munro’ might find themselves perusing Gail Anderson-Dargatz … If Margaret Laurence were alive today, she’d be looking over her shoulder – not with worry, but anticipation. Anderson-Dargatz is the real thing."
The Calgary Herald

"… As beautiful as it is uplifting. The struggle to find love in such an emotionally barren landscape, and Beth’s dignity in the face of massive dysfunction, make her a remarkable heroine. The novel has culled the best from many fictional worlds – including Márquez’s magical realism, Faulkner’s Gothic claustrophobia, Ondaatje’s lyricism, and Flannery O’Connor’s engaging outcasts – to create a work that is startlingly original."
Quill & Quire

"A robust but richly observed coming-of-age story of a complex young woman whose growth and resilience are celebrated without an iota of sentimentality."
Kirkus Reviews

"I loved it from the first page. She is fluent and graceful and there’s a passion there, a tension, in fact all I want from a novel. The writing is so powerful and yet holds back, showing a restraint that tightens the whole atmosphere. I was gripped."
Margaret Forster

"Like lightning in the distance, Anderson-Dargatz’s novel signals a strong force on the literary horizon."
Maclean’s

"Brilliant.... A wonderful and challenging, truly bewitching novel, a unique work by an original voice....[Anderson-Dargatz] gives full reign to an amazing imagination and a compelling sense of time and place.... Like all powerful works of imagination, The Cure for Death by Lightning must be inhabited to be appreciated."
Edmonton Journal

"Unusual and stimulating...Intriguing.... The dialogue is excellent, the characters well-drawn. The novel has real depth and integrity of voice. Its world is compelling, unusual and emotionally haunting."
Vancouver Sun

"Powerful."
Books in Canada

"A truly realized, completely gripping personal reconstruction of history, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children meets Like Water for Chocolate in this bold addition to the Canadian cannon."
Id Magazine

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780394281575
Publisher:
Knopf Canada
Publication date:
04/01/1996
Pages:
384

Read an Excerpt

When fifteen-year-old Beth Week’s family is attacked by a grizzly, her father becomes increasingly violent, making him a danger to his neighbors, his family, and especially Beth. Meanwhile, several young children from the nearby Indian reservation have gone missing, and Beth fears that something is pursuing her in the bush. But friendship with an Indian girl connects her to a mythology that enriches her landscape; and an unexpected protector shores up her world.
Set on an isolated Canadian farm in the midst of World War II, The Cure for Death by Lightning evokes a life at once harshly demanding and rich in sensory pleasures: the deafening chatter of starlings, the sight of thousands of painted turtles crossing a road, the smell of baking that fills the Weeks’s kitchen. The novel is sprinkled throughout with recipes and remedies from the scrapbook Beth’s mother keeps, a boon to Beth as she learns to face down her demons—and one of many elements that give The Cure for Death by Lightning its enchanting vitality.

Meet the Author

Turtle Valley is the fifth book to come from talented Canadian author Gail Anderson-Dargatz, whose novels have been published in several languages worldwide. Her first novel The Cure For Death By Lightning met with terrific acclaim and garnered her the UK’s Betty Trask Award and a nomination for Canada’s Giller Prize. A Recipe For Bees soon followed with nominations for the Giller and the IMPAC Dublin Award. A Rhinestone Button was a national bestseller in Canada and her first book, The Miss Hereford Stories, was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

Her style has been called “Margaret Laurence meets Gabriel García Márquez” because her writing tends towards magic realism, but Anderson-Dargatz says the ghosts and premonitions in her novels arise from her family’s stories of the Shuswap-Thompson area, which she carefully transcribed. “My father passed on the rich stories and legends about the region I grew up in, which he heard from the interior Salish natives he worked with,” she explains. “And my mother told me tales of her own premonitions, and of ghosts, eccentrics and dark deeds that haunted the area.”

Anderson-Dargatz has recently moved home to British Columbia’s Shuswap-Thompson area, that landscape found in so much of her writing. She is married to photographer Mitch Krupp, who took the beautiful photos that are reproduced throughout Turtle Valley. Now at work on her next novel, she is an adjunct professor in the creative writing optional-residency MFA program at the University of British Columbia.

Of her inspiration for Turtle Valley, Anderson-Dargatz writes, “It all started back in 1998 when I helped evacuate my parents from the Salmon Arm fire. Almost the whole city was evacuated, in what was the largest peacetime evacuation in the history of BC up to that time. It was both terrifying and visually beautiful, as fire quite literally rained down on the Salmon River Valley. Even as we went through it, I knew I would write of it someday, and I did, in Turtle Valley.”

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Cure for Death by Lightning 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was 16 and I was searching through my mother's boyfriend's garage in hope to find something to hit a baseball with. Instead I found this book, and after I had removed the dust on the cover I instantly started reading it. Don't know why exactly, but I felt as if I had to. Today, I can't explain how fortunate I was to do just that, read it, over and over again. This book means more to me than life itself sometimes, I get this feeling I can't explain, like a secret love. If you could fall in love with a book and it's lyrics, this is definitely an example. Amazing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book unfolds in a fashion that leaves you pondering...not only where the story will take you, but where it has taken you already. The story envelops the reader in the Native folklore that is haunting Beth Weeks town, and forces you to decide the difference between lore and reality in the retelling.