So, there's the kind of foreshadowing you don't even notice until a book is done. Then you are compelled to return to the start of the novel to track back to the points you wished you'd noticed before. (See Unless, when we discover why the main character's daughter stopped talking, why she signed out of civilization.)
And there is the kind of foreshadowing that keeps bonking you over the head, reminding you again and again that something is going to happen. Elizabeth Hay's most recent novel, Late Nights on Air, falls in this category. I didn't mind it until a friend pointed it out, really. And until I started reading A Student of Weather, in which Hay also exercises a heavy hand in hinting at the future.
But in reading her debut novel, I came to realize foreshadowing -- when done best -- is like a red velvet ribbon twisted around and through a narrative, holding it together, making it stronger. Yes, there are a few plot twists I would have preferred to be surprised by, but Hay's choice to lay the groundwork early on better draws out the character of Norma Joyce. Hinting at all the fragmented pieces of Norma Joyce's heart, all the places she will go and see, helps the reader better understand this little girl who becomes a woman in 364 pages.
Most important, Hay clearly knows when to hold back. The twist that rips a hole in Norma Joyce's story is never, ever hinted at. It comes almost out of nowhere.
Norma Joyce Hardy is one of the most fascinating heroines I've ever read.... For so much of the book she's described as something of a gnome, a negative little beast more typical of a villain. And her actions are those of an anti-hero, at least early on. But Hay allows for Norma Joyce to age, to become an adult. To fade, if you will. It's not quite Anne Shirley becomes Anne Blythe or anything (a sad example of a spirited character killed by marriage, age and children), but it's a quieting of obsession.
And at its heart, A Student of Weather is the tale of an obsessive love that crosses decades. The object of Norma Joyce's affection reminds me of Hubbell -- there's a practiced carelessness to him. Will he ever change? Is there any hope?
"Oh, men with twinkling eyes. You should be strung up at birth." (p. 87)
Hay is a gorgeous, gorgeous writer (I really have to purchase and read Garbo Laughs). I can't say enough good things about her books, about the spells she casts in her stories, about her ability to make me read and read without ever wanting to put a novel down. Hers are, at their heart, simple Canadian stories told in a straightforward way, as if you were telling your best friend the highlights of your life story. These are stories of land and heart, of family and solitude. Hay lends such an importance to place, allowing Prairie fields, or Ottawa's Rideau Canal, or Yellowknife's Pilot's Monument to be characters of their own. Characters that fill in the blanks the way people never can.
A parting piece to take away from this fascinating tale:
"This is always central to old fairy tales, the prince's tendency to forget. But then maybe charm and forgetfulness always go together. Maybe forgetfulness allows you to be charming because people don't register enough to be a burden. And so the Prince Charmings forget their true loves until something reminds them, a shoe that fits, or a ring they recognize, or a wave of water in the face. Certainly in those heady days after his return, Norma Joyce did her best to be unforgettable." (p. 151)