Book Review – Father by Allan Hudson

Father, by Canadian writer Allan Hudson, is set during World War 2 and follows the experiences of Tanner Hill from 1942 through to his return home after the war. This novella starts with a prologue detailing the arrival of two Hill brothers in Canada in the 1840s and the lives they build for themselves in the New Brunswick area. Tanner has inherited from his grandfather, one of those two brothers, not only his name but his skill at making moonshine. Living surrounded by family, by June 1942, Tanner is in his late thirties, has a beautiful wife he loves, two young sons, a job as a mechanic and a lucrative sideline making moonshine. Life is good. But all this is put in jeopardy by the vindictive actions of a disgruntled customer and Tanner feels his only option is to volunteer for the Canadian army.

Tanner is soon shipped out to England and then on to Sicily. The narrative traces the progress of the war showing the human consequences of it through Tanner’s eyes. Pointed vignettes bring home the cost to both soldiers and citizens, even the enemy. These moments show Tanner’s character, his compassion and his strengths as well as his weaknesses which he excuses by thinking them the consequence of war, not the way he would behave at home in Canada.

The last quarter of the novel deals with Tanner’s homecoming. I found this section, in many ways, the most compelling with its understanding of the range of emotions soldiers faced on their arrival back home, their hopes of a return to the idyll the past had become in their minds challenged by reality. Tanner’s reactions are realistic and truly show the measure of the man.

The characters in Father are well rounded and portrayed sympathetically, their strengths and weaknesses shown. No one is wholly good or bad, even Lloyd McDuff, the man who turns Tanner’s world upside down – despite his unpleasant character there is a moment were the reader feels the desperation that is driving him.

Hudson’s unembellished prose skillfully creates Tanner Hill’s world. The descriptions of the physical environment, particularly in the Canadian sections, are beautiful and always tied closely to the action, enhancing the atmosphere.
There is only the scatter of something small through the dead leaves, maybe a rabbit, or a snake. Birds skitter in the canopy searching for insects and spiders, their chirp-like warnings the only other sound.

Allan Hudson, in an interview, explained that Father was inspired by factual incidents but names and settings had been changed. It is, ultimately, an uplifting and truly human story that stays in the mind long after the reading is finished.

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