From the author of the internationally acclaimed Latitudes of Melt comes the story of Moranna MacKenzie, a woman who lives alone in a Cape Breton farmhouse, fighting the symptoms of mental illness and still grieving the loss of her two daughters, who were taken from her over thirty years previously.
Moranna is known in the community as “Mad Mory”; she plays complicated concerti on a piano board, sings — she has perfect pitch — bakes bread and carves wooden replicas of her Scottish ancestors to sell to tourists. She doesn’t often go to church, but takes it upon herself to write the odd, opinionated sermon for the church minister. Because she refuses to have a phone, her brother Murdoch must periodically drive out of his way to assist her when she gets into scrapes with the law, usually for erratic or threatening behaviour.
When he’s not working on the ferries between Cape Breton and Newfoundland, Moranna’s lover, Bun, lives with her. These two aging misfits ask only to be left alone to live as they choose. But when Moranna learns that one of her long-lost daughters is to be married in Halifax, she is determined to be there. Her other daughter will likely be in attendance as well. Will either of them recognize her? Will they be happy to see her? And will Moranna stay sane enough not to cause a scene?
Moranna is simply unforgettable, and Joan Clark imbues her eccentric life with both wit and romance. Her Cape Breton farmhouse is brought sharply to life as are the inhabitants of the small village in which she lives. Moranna’s struggle with mental illness provides the novel with both sadness and hilarity, even as it moves to its extraordinary end.
Picture a woman playing a piano board at the kitchen table on a late December morning. Her hands, warmed by knuckle gloves, move across the wooden keys as she leans into the music. Pedalling a foot against the floor, her strong, supple fingers pound the opening chords of a Rachmaninov concerto. The woman imagines heavy velvet curtains drawing apart and lively notes rush on stage, leaping and skipping in a short, spirited dance that ends in a flutter of sound. The dancers depart and swaying from side to side, the woman plays slower notes and hums along, her voice mellifluous and soothing as she imagines herself beside a stream sliding through waving grass. Outside the window, the winter landscape is frozen and drab, but inside the farmhouse it is summer and music sparkles on sunlit water as the notes flow from the woman’s fingertips, moving outward in ever expanding circles. Except for the fire crackling inside the wood stove and the woman’s hum, no sound can be heard in the kitchen, for the painted keys of the piano board are as mute as the table beneath.
—from An Audience of Chairs