In Merilyn Simonds's debut novel, THE HOLDING, two women living on
the same piece of land decades apart are faced with emotional and
physical isolation, and find strength in self-reliance.
In the 1800s young Margaret MacBayne, along with her family, leaves
her Scottish fishing village in hopes of taming the wilderness of
Canada and finding prosperity and happiness. Margaret and her three
brothers lose their father directly upon landing in the New World,
and their mother dies in childbirth soon after. When her brothers
depart for logging camps each winter, leaving Margaret alone in the
Canadian bush, she must find the physical and emotional strength to
survive. She does survive, flourishing with the help of a Native
woman who befriends her, protects her and teaches her traditional
herbalism. When her brothers bring home a man to help on the
homestead, Margaret falls unexpectedly in love. Soon her happiness
is destroyed by a tragic accident, and the MacBayne family is
In the late 1990s Alyson Thompson, pregnant and alone while her
moody and mysterious partner Walker is working at a logging camp,
also deals with tragedy and loss. While exploring her land, the
former MacBayne holding, she finds the remains of Margaret's garden
and cabin, and within it, Margaret's journal. Alyson, a creative
gardener, connects with Margaret's loss and the work she loved.
Unbeknownst to Walker and her best friend, Alyson begins to revive
Margaret's long-dormant garden and finds it a healing enterprise.
Still, she must confront difficult truths about Walker and their
Simonds artfully moves back and forth between the two perspectives
of Margaret and Alyson, and intertwines them well. The land is the
first connection between the two, but Margaret and Alyson share
much more than simple geography. Both are women alone, even while
in the company of men. Each has to navigate the space from
loneliness to solitude. And each woman thinks about revenge in
attempts to right wrongs done against them.
THE HOLDING is a story about creativity and emotional resources in
the face of sadness and loss. It is about the innate and awesome
courage of women. It is also about the fragility and importance of
female friendships, as well as the joys and pains of love.
Simonds's book is romantic, mysterious and atmospheric, and the
almost abrupt ending lends to its potency. Beautifully written, THE
HOLDING is a thoughtful and poignant first novel.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011