TRAP, Kitty Sewell’s debut, is labeled “A Novel of
Suspense.” Indeed, there is plenty of suspense in this
domestic drama played out against the deceptively placid backdrop
of Cardiff and the stark, deadly desolateness of Northern Canada.
But there are also elements of mystery, eroticism, the supernatural
and romance doled out in varying and addicting measure.
Dafydd Woodruff is a British surgeon with a successful practice, a
beautiful home and a loving wife. However, his life and all that is
in it is slowly unraveling. His wife is longing for a child, but he
doesn’t know if he’s ready for the responsibility (and
isn’t sure he ever will be). It’s a doubt that he keeps
to himself, at least initially, even as he acquiesces, with
increasing reluctance, to his wife’s efforts to go through
The delicate domestic balance that the couple has achieved is
abruptly upset when Woodruff receives a letter from a 13-year-old
girl who claims that he is the father to her and her twin brother.
She is living in Moose Creek in the northern territories of Canada,
an area where he had lived and practiced medicine some 14 years
before. Woodruff was acquainted with the mother, Sheila Hailey, the
head nurse at the hospital where he practiced and a woman who could
be described most charitably as emotionally unstable. He
categorically denies any involvement with her and insists on DNA
testing, which, he is certain, will exonerate him.
Accordingly, Woodruff is stunned when the results come back
positive for his paternity. The mother of the children tells a tale
of intoxication and rape, one of which he has no recollection. His
wife is infuriated with him, not so much because of something that
happened years before they met, but because of his apparent deceit
in denying to her that anything had occurred. With his home and
marriage coming undone, Woodruff goes back to Moose Creek to
confront his past as well as his potential future as a father. His
return sets off a series of events that reveals a pattern of
deception and secrets that will upend his life --- and those around
him --- for better or worse.
Sewell’s storytelling is the real star here. Her narrative
alternates between the past and present so that revelations occur
in exquisite, minute increments that tantalize and intrigue. Even
in the face of apparent tragedy, there is a natural beauty that
informs the background. Woodruff is not an entirely sympathetic
character, nor is his wife the bad guy here --- he knew what she
wanted, and she is nothing if not consistent --- but he nonetheless
tries to do the right thing, even as he cannot comprehend how he
finds himself in this situation.
By the time that Woodruff and the reader learn where things are
ultimately going, it is impossible not to be thoroughly charmed on
numerous levels, even as the novel’s title takes on a number
of different meanings. ICE TRAP is an impressive debut, one that
will put its author on many “must read” lists.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011