Norman (best known for The Bird Artist, 1994) scores again with this gripping account of a family ripped apart by obsession and murder. In format, the novel is a long letter written by Wyatt Hillyer to Marlais, the daughter he scarcely knows, to explain the "terrible incident" that has kept them apart. But Wyatt must start with something equally terrible. In 1941, when he was 17, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, his parents jumped to their deaths from separate bridges; they were unhappily in love with the same woman. Wyatt leaves Halifax to live with his Uncle Donald, Aunt Constance and adopted daughter Tilda in their small town, and becomes apprenticed to his sled-making uncle. The hoped-for sanctuary is anything but. Wyatt has exchanged his parents' erotic obsession for his uncle's obsession with German U-boats swarming beneath the Atlantic; on top of that, he is now an unhappy lover himself, yearning for Tilda. It is his rotten luck that Tilda should have fallen for Hans Mohring, a German philology student. Wyatt accepts his fate as the rejected suitor-no histrionics for him. Meanwhile the news that Constance, on a ferry, is among the latest U-boat victims, catapults Donald into madness. He murders Hans (already married to Tilda) and has Wyatt help him dump the body in the ocean. Donald confesses and gets life; Wyatt, morally innocent but legally culpable, draws a short sentence. After his release, he makes love to the bereft Tilda, just once. In time Tilda will move with their baby Marlais to Denmark, home to Hans's parents; now, in 1967, Wyatt is making full disclosure to his grown daughter. Though himself a victim twice over, and still feeling the pain of his parents' deaths, he has never complained. Norman has developed this brave, emotionally reticent man with great delicacy. It is extraordinary that a story which carries such a weight of sorrow is never depressing, but Norman the master craftsman pulls it off.
"The quiet power of this book comes on slowly and unrelentingly, offering a mesmerizing look into one man’s past. Creating one of the most captivating and effective uses of the retrospective letter format in recent memory, Norman’s prose is understated, eloquent and perfectly chosen, and his novel paints a picture of one man’s legacy that will not soon be lost."
"The latest from master of precision Howard Norman is again set in the gray majesty of Nova Scotia, where 17-year-old orphan Wyatt Hillyer moves in with his devoted aunt and uncle and their adopted daughter, Tilda, the love of stoic Wyatt's life. The ravages of Hitler and his dastardly German U-boats lurking beneath Canadian waters hit their home hard. In What Is Left the Daughter, Norman writes with spare elegance and dry humor, and the extraordinary emotional power of his slim new novel is earned with authentic grace. Grade: A"
"Fans of Howard Norman's THE BIRD ARTIST will recognize the venue and the oddball characters in the author's beautiful new novel, WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER....Norman turns a tiny town into an entire world in which even the most heinous sins can—almost—be forgiven."
—O, The Oprah Magazine
"Howard Norman has captured the fear and suspicion that World War II brought to the East Coast perfectly, as news reports circulate and the silent and spooky threat of the U-boats is ever-present….Norman also captures the speech and texture of life in Nova Scotia with gentle humor and deft description…No improvement needed [for WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER]; it is perfect."
"[A]n expertly crafted tale of love during wartime…Norman’s writing is effortless, and his plot is grand in scope but studded with moments of tenderness and intimacy that help crystallize the anxiety and weariness of life on the home front. That Norman is able to achieve so much in 250 pages is a testament to his mastery of the craft."
—Publishers Weekly , STARRED
"Norman (best known for The Bird Artist, 1994) scores again with this gripping account of a family ripped apart by obsession and murder...It is extraordinary that a story which carries such a weight of sorrow is never depressing, but Norman the master craftsman pulls it off." —Kirkus, STARRED
"Norman’s piquant insights into life’s wildness, human eccentricity, and love’s maddening persistence are matched by rhapsodic and profound descriptions of everything from perfectly baked scones to pelting rain and the devouring sea, while anguish is tempered with humor, thanks to rapid-fire banter and marvelously spiky characters."
"Howard Norman’s new novel, WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER, is the best story of love in the time of war I’ve ever read. And yes, that includes COLD MOUNTAIN AND A FAREWELL TO ARMS....WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER affirms what many of Howard Norman’s readers have known since he published his magical first novel, THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. Norman is most certainly one of America’s three or four best novelists, with a uniquely wise and tolerant vision of his characters and all human beings everywhere. So let’s not mince words. WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER is a literary masterpiece that will, I guarantee it, live on in your heart, and mine, forever." —Howard Mosher, Amazon.com
"Howard Norman is a master storyteller, packing provocative details into virtually every sentence of this short, but hardly slight, novel....What is left the daughterand the readerhere is the gift of one man's utterly human, heartbreaking life story."
"This saga of sorrow, love, and a father's desire to meet his grown daughter displays power...moving" —Boston Globe
"You lean in, trying to catch every word, lulled by [Norman's] voice as he describes the most ordinary lives that just happen to be punctuated by macabre accidents. . . . Norman offers a kind of rough-hewn poetry throughout [with an] ardor that shimmers just below the surface." —Washington Post
"Reminiscent of a classic Robert Frank black-and-white photograph, this candid, everyday portrait discloses intricate webs of wistfulness and resignation. Norman raises absorbing moral quandaries, particularly about the possibilities of forgiveness...The epistolary form of this novel is a cri de coeur from an author faithful to the printed word in a time of promiscuous texting, friending and tweeting. Students today who can't write in cursive are able to e-mail across the world. The reflective, personal storytelling in "What Is Left the Daughter" reminds us of the potential beauty, intimacy and wisdom offered by two endangered genres
—the letter and the novel." —Los Angeles Times