Sunday 2 August 2020

The True Story of Ida Johnson

Finished July 28
The True Story of Ida Johnson by Sharon Riis

This short novel is quite different. Ida Johnson grew up in southern Alberta on a farm near a small town. She was a loner and different and her only friend was a young native girl, Lucy, who went to school in town briefly. She and Lucy were very close and spent a lot of time outdoors and playing imaginative games. Ida is now a waitress in another small Alberta town.
A trucker driving from B.C. through the Crowsnest Pass in winter is surprised to see a young man lying by the side of the road. When he stops and approaches, thinking the young man may be dead in the cold, the man sits up. The trucker takes him along, but feels put off by the stranger, who doesn't say much, except that his name is Luke. When they stop at a small town diner, Luke stays. Ida is on shift, but when her shift is over, Luke asks her to sit and talk.
The story moves around in time and viewpoint, sometimes showing us what Lucy did after leaving Alberta when she was young. We hear about Ida's peripatetic life, her triumphs and betrayals. She still remembers Lucy with fondness.
Although it is never stated, one feels like Luke and Lucy are the same person in different guises. And that sometimes Ida is aware of this.
Ida has done some terrible things, and yet she doesn't seem to regret any of them. Her story is matter of fact, not holding anything back.
Because this book was written in the 1970s, some of the terminology is no longer appropriate, and was on the edge even for that time. I really don't know how I feel about this book, it is unsettling and yet because it is told in such an unemotional tone, somehow just a sad story. 
Interestingly, the blurbs on the back of my copy are from Margaret Atwood and Marian Engel, which speak to its uptake at the time it was first published.

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