Screenwriter Lori Lansens has created an international buzz and impressive foreign sales with her first novel, Rush Home Road, set within the black community of southwestern Ontario. Addy, Lansens's central character, is an elderly black woman who was raised in a settlement founded by fugitive slaves, the fictional village of Rushholme, and now lives in a trailer park near Chatham. When the mother of a five-year-old neighbour girl named Sharla runs off, Addy becomes the girl's caregiver. Her young charge helps give Addy the will to live, and also inspires a mental journey of bittersweet remembrance back through a tragic life filled with rape, racism, murder, and the death of her own children.
Lansens, who is white, has had mixed reviews from black Canadian literary critics: her portrayals of black characters have been alternately praised for their credibility and damned for sentimentality. Structurally, Lansens has also set herself a big challenge since she must juggle past and present storylines without giving either short shrift. Inevitably, since the past events of Addy's life are so dense with incident, the present events often feel like filler: we can't wait for Addy's mind to drift again among the decades. But ultimately the story manages to overcome its elements of melodrama--the litany of suffering inflicted upon Addy and Sharla would do any soap opera plotline proud--and become the kind of richly detailed epic that readers who miss Oprah's Book Club will especially enjoy. --Nigel Hunt