Reviewed by Kim McCullough
In the opening pages of Loggers’ Daughters (Oolichan Books, 2013), Adare Wilkins faces a seismic shift in the world she’s known for so long. With the impending death of her mother, she must confront the possible loss of the interior B.C. farm she and her husband Dave have worked for years. Adare and Dave never concerned themselves with securing the land title before it was too late. Adare has three siblings, and as often is the case, there is no will. The inheritance isn’t cut and dried.
Loggers’ Daughters moves easily back between a 1980’s present, and earlier times that entwine the heady highs and desperate lows of British Columbia’s logging past with remembrances of Adare’s past that include the brutal history of living with her alcoholic father, and the calmer times of raising her children, Brianne and Tim.
With her mother’s death, Adare’s claim to the family farm becomes tenuous, as precarious as her role as mother to her own daughter, Brianne. Brianne, away in Vancouver, volunteers at a women’s shelter, which fans the flames of her disillusionment with the male-dominated world around her. When her daughter is arrested after a feminist protest, Adare leaves the safety of home to come to Brianne in the big city. The arrest shreds the remnants of Adare’s equilibrium and the gap between Adare and Brianne shows itself to be as wide as the one that once existed between Adare and her own mother.
Brownlee deftly re-creates the harshness of these eras, while at the same time imbuing the brutality with beauty and longing. The traditional, masculine worlds of logging and farming are used as backdrops for the relationships between the women in the book. They act as brilliant foils, too, for the burgeoning radicalism of the feminist movement. The reader is at once saddened by the loss of the traditions of the past, all while rooting for the success of the feminist fight.
There is a lovely, representative passage on page 156 where Brianne tells Adare of an experiment she came across in one of her psychology textbooks. A dog is caged and shocked over and over with electricity. When the dog can no longer take the pain, it lies down and gives up. The comparison between the dog and the women Brianne knows – possibly even her own mother – is clear, but when Brianne asks her mother what she thinks, Adare, unsure of her own convictions, never gives her opinion. Later, Brianne speaks eloquently of the protests, and the cracks that are forming across the country in the entrenched, traditional roles women have played for generations.
Loggers’ Daughters is a novel about mothers and daughters, of being bound by expectations, and breaking them. While Brownlee gently comments on the greater societal beliefs of women’s roles, the book really shines in its depiction of the specific – Adare’s relationships with her own family, and the expectations held by those she loves most.