Downhill Chance was the first of Donna Morrissey’s novels that I had the pleasure of reading, and her indisputable talent immediately snagged her a place on my personal list of top Newfoundland authors. Morrissey’s gift of storytelling, her obvious understanding of outport life and her skillful use of dialect combine to draw the reader into the very real world of a remote Newfoundland fishing village and the troubled lives of the fictional Gale family.
When Job Gale makes the morally correct, but fundamentally erroneous decision to enlist in WWII, it is one that changes forever the lives of his wife, Sare, and his two daughters, Missy and Clair. Unable to cope with Job’s absence, Sare retreats into a world of pain, both physical and emotional, leaving Clair to take care of her younger sister and deal with the grinding poverty that threatens to starve them.
Resourceful of necessity, Clair calls forth from her young soul the fortitude demanded by her circumstances, bearing the openly vitriolic judgments of the villagers with a passionate courage in anticipation of her father’s return to set her world right again. But Job’s return is more tribulation than joy. War-ravaged in both body and mind, he struggles with the guilt and ugly secrets of battle, ultimately unable to provide his family’s looked for salvation.
Downhill Chance is a story of tragedy and triumph. It is a story of hope, determination and the inevitable consequences of past actions, those taken and not taken. Morrissey has effectively created an environment in which to explore the constricting effects of isolation, both personal and geographical, the interdependency it necessitates and the friction that arises from it. She populates it with believable characters that reflect the strengths and frailties of human nature, to which we can all relate, while her skilful portrayal of complex family and societal relationships touches on yet another shared truth of our own existence.
Morrissey’s spot-on sense of place allows the reader to become immersed in a life and time far removed from the modern experience and paints a profoundly vivid picture of pre- and post-war Newfoundland and the influences that shaped the future of the land and its people.
Recommended reading for anyone who appreciates an absorbing tale with a historically authentic setting.