Book Review: The Deception of Livvy Higgs

 The Deception of Livvy Higgs holds all the intrigue and mystery I’ve come to find in East Coast Canlit. I thought often of The Bishop’s Man (Linden MacIntyre) and Glass Boys (Nicole Lundrigan) while reading, which also illustrate the harsh landscapes like Cape Breton and Newfoundland and stories of hardscrabble upbringing, all done with mysteriously cloaked writing. The Deception of Livvy Higgs was no different, as we are left to sift through the whisperings and lies by everyone in Livvy’s life in order to slowly uncover and piece together the events that shaped Livvy’s childhood.

When we first come upon Livvy, she is now an 80 year old woman living in Halifax next door to a young woman, Gen and her son Ronnie. Ronnie presents Livvy with a photo frame of a candid pose of Livvy standing by her gate. She is deeply shocked to see how aged she is. Livvy also suffers from severe asthma and appears to be having a number of anxiety attacks on and off throughout the day causing her to doze repeatedly in her rocking chair. While she sleeps, we are brought back to Livvy’s childhood in the French quarter of Newfoundland where her mother is often found ranting about her husband (Livvy’s father) and her mother (Livvy’s grandmother).  Layers of her past are held deep inside Livvy’s mind and each time she goes off for a nap we glimpse and begin to uncover pieces of the torment her mother endured from Livvy’s father and her grandmother. When Livvy’s mother dies, she is left bereft with a scornful father.

Livvy is surrounded by lies and you must sift through the whisperings that Livvy has heard constantly during her youth. Livvy now drifts in and out of sleep that take us back to where the whispers and distrust and fighting and jealousy between her mother, her father and her grandmother tumble around looking to be pieced together to uncover the truth. Livvy guides us through the true reason behind her father’s marriage to her mother, the reasons why her father is disgusted and scornful by Livvy’s mother and herself and even her grandmother. She sifts through the hatred and even the alliance between her father and grandmother. Why is there so much distrust, lies, and stories. It all comes about as she drifts in to a memory filled deep sleep. Each sleep Livvy drifts in to becomes deeper and deeper and the longer we spent in her past. Each time she slips into the past it becomes harder and harder for Gen to pull her back to the present.

We slowly uncover the reason why Livvy’s parents wed, what really happened that night at the shore when her grandmother’s ship capsized, captained by Durwin’s father, and Durwin himself. The Captain drowned and Durwin is forever raging against the Frenchmen that helped rescue young Durwin. Why was the ship so close to the rocks of Newfoundland in the first place if the planned trip was to sail to England off Halifax? Why did they come in so close? What are these whisperings of Lloyds and insurance and payments that constantly fly around Livvy’s ears? Most of all, we learn of Livvy’s loneliness and a life filled with distrust that shapes her youth and maturing self and of the disdain and scorn of her father.

” I look into his eyes and see the hatred smoldering beneath his strife, his hatred for all things, for Mister Louis, for Missus Louis, and for Mother. And me too, no matter that I’m his child who’s done no harm. He’s fuelling a rage against me too, for it’s easier to hate me than learn the wrong he’s doing me.”

Morrissey’s writing is something to relish as well and a taste of it can be found in the following:

 ” I come to Father’s curtain, where he lies inside waiting for no one, his past hours, his memories, strung out like ill-written postcards that lead me not into his tomorrow, for my hand is already poised for his final goodbye.”

While reading this novel, Remembrance Day occurred and it was a nice time to read this story as it gave a heartfelt, fleeting glimpse in to how the war touched those in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland during WWII.

The Deception of Livvy Higgs was a very good story. I am quite partial to those stories where we travel back in to the past lives of these special, yet everyday heroines.  This particular story is a beautiful and lyrical portrait of Livvy and her struggles in a life filled with loneliness and strife. On Canaan’s Side and my most recent read Orphan Train also came to mind when reading this novel. I have had Morrissey’s novels on my To Be Read List for some time, this was the first one I’ve read by her and I’m certain to go back and discover her other novels on my list.