The Bury Road: Tales from the Bruce Peninsula (2015), by Donna Jansen

Jansen - Bury RoadThe Bury Road Girls is “loosely based on [the author’s] own childhood experiences growing up on the Bruce Peninsula in a family with seven girls” (back cover), which does provide a satisfying degree of verisimilitude to the story. Sadly, though, there isn’t much actual story to be had. What we have, rather, is a series of vignettes loosely held together by characters and setting (Debbie’s family and the Bury road community) that present for the reader some aspects of life in a rural Ontario community in the 1960s.

Jansen tells an Owen Sound Sun Times reporter that it was her grandchildren’s love of her stories that prompted her to write the book, and I can see how the tales of a by-gone era would be engaging both to her own family and modern urban readers, who could well be fascinated learning about girls doing boys’ farmwork, haying and threshing and driving the tractor, and a time when getting the strap was still part of school discipline. I remember those days well; rural BC communities were obviously not all that different from those in Ontario.

As a text, Bury Road Girls falls properly under the genre of the short-story cycle: neither a collection of distinct short stories nor a novel with plot or intertwined plot-lines running start to finish through the course of the single narrative. What is required of the short-story cycle, though, is some form of overarching cohesion that ties the vignettes or stories together into a whole. The Bury Road does try to present this: the concluding paragraph has Debbie revisiting the main points of each incident, searching for the Big Dipper up in the sky (another iconic rural childhood activity), because “finding it made her feel safe.” This safety, the protection and camaraderie of the family unit, is perhaps the glue that holds the narrative together, but it is sufficiently well crafted to cause the narrative to glow. The narrative voice is simple and enjoyable, and the images of rural life that we are given are true-to-life and interesting, but I can envision a more engaging way of delivering the vicarious experience.

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