Deception can be more powerful than death.
The book in one sentence: Wherein we learn of Livvy Higgs' deception, discovering her painfully sordid past.
Synopsis of The Deception of Livvy Higgs by Donna Morrissey: For two traumatic days, Livvy Higgs is besieged by a series of small heart attacks while the ghost of her younger self leads her back through a past devastated by lies and secrets.
The story opens in Halifax in 2009, travels back to the French Shore of Newfoundland during the mid-thirties and the heyday of the Maritime shipping industry, makes its way to wartorn Halifax during the battle of the Atlantic in World War II, then leaps ahead to the bedside of the elder Livvy.
Caught between a troubled past, and her present and worsening living conditions, Livvy is forced to pick apart the lies and secrets told by her greedy, prideful father, Durwin Higgs, who judges her a failure, and her formidable Grandmother Creed, who has mysteriously aligned herself with Livvy's father, despite their mutual hatred.
Tending to Livvy during her illness is her young next-door neighbour, Gen, a single mother, social-work student, and part-time drug dealer. Overnight, a violent scene embroils the two in each other's lives in a manner that will entwine them forever. In The Deception of Livvy Higgs, the inimitable Morrissey has written a powerful tale, the Stone Angel of the East Coast.
Livvy Higgs is - a harmless, rather forgetful octogenarian - who living alone, seems better with family or in a home. Looking out for her is her neighbour, Gen, a single mother studying to be a social worker.
When Livvy's health takes a turn with for the worse, she hallucinates and revisits her painful past, thus starting a shifting in the book from past and present and back again.
Growing up in a rather lonely childhood, Livvy remembers her martyred mother, her austere father, and a scheming grandmother, and her seeking solace in her neighbour Missus Louis and her family. Most important of all, she distinctly remembers a seeming conspiracy between her father and her Grandmother Creed -- a secret that weighs on Livvy heavily as she sees her mother suffering as a consequence.
The Higgs family is a shipping family in Newfoundland in the mid-thirties. As Livvy's past unfolds, we become privvy to their lives embroiled in politics and the sordid secrets of the Maritime shipping industry.
This is among the best-told stories I have read in a while, coherent overall yet surprising in how I see the emotional unravelling of Livvy as she learns of the lifelong deception and a betrayal that is difficult to come to terms with. Her "truth" metamorphoses into yet another "truth," highlighting that how we make sense of people at a certain time in our lives ... can be totally be disproven as we gain a better understanding of ourselves, the circumstances, and of other people's secret selves.
I have no doubt that this story will resonate with many, as well as appeal to Canadian historical fiction fans.
Verdict: A page-turning family saga that reveals the deception that many of us inevitably live with.
First line: I step carefully onto the iced side steps, knees creaking like an old stair, and fling feed to the grey hubble of pigeons coo-cooing about the doorplace.
Last line: [..] ah, sweet, sweet grace.