Diamond: A memoir
McClelland & Stewart, 2003
The Tune stone dates from the 5th century AD and is the most important of Norway's ancient inscribed rune monuments. Discovered in 1627 in the southeast part of the country, it's been moved to Oslo nearby. It's a stone a few feet high that would reach about up to my heart, and it's chiseled with runes vertically, on both sides. It bears a message that scholars and translators can't agree on, but it's clear that WiwaR carved the runes in memory of WoduridaR. Whatever it means to say at the beginning, it ends by describing how WoduridaR was celebrated after his death, though he left no sons or male relatives, only three daughters.
Who was Wodurida? Who was Wiwa? Were they partners, the Rs, parents of the three daughter Rs? Were they friends? Why is the beginning of the story muddy, ambiguous, but the ending clear?
Why does one bond endure, another break? What does it demand, and what happens when you fail?
When do you build a monument, and what should it say if you do?
When your home has literally dropped off the map, life becomes an uncharted journey. Dawn Rae Downton returns to Nova Scotia after two years away and can't find Diamond, the settlement for which her new home, a ramshackle farmhouse, is named. Seems it's no longer on the map, and no roadsign points to it. Ominous? Sure enough, she's home only a week when she learns that her best friend Carol is dying. There's an exhausting flurry of well-wishers, and soon Carol turns everyone away—everyone except her lifelong friend. Together, the two trace down the hundred days it takes for Carol to die.
Though it's peopled by ghosts and an elegy lies at its heart, Diamond is not always a dark book. As a frolic through the mishaps of trying to live off the land, it tours us, kicking and screaming, through flooded basements, the habits of spiders, deer hunting season, and duck husbandry. We hear about the tribulations of wells and mad cats, the psychology of birthday cakes, and the security alarms at Zellers. Vikings roam the book's pages, as do sorcerers, witches, and the legendary curses of the famous gemstone.
Lots of curses. Can anyone ever really cross to safety? Can spirit win out over even the greatest grief? These are Diamond's questions.
What the reviewers said:
Masterful telling ... intimately and courageously personal, told with the air of a neighborly chat on the porch. Diamond is a gem.
Halifax Sunday Herald
Lively and original ... Downton is a vigorous writer with an inqusitive mind
St. John's Evening Telegram
A magnificent book, which I read in one sitting—hungry, back aching—because I was entranced. The world's hardest substance, Downton says, exists in us, and will last us through it all: the bad decisions, the move to nowhere, the rotting house, comforting your best friend as she dies of a diamond-hard cancer. Funny, even as it open up wounds, Diamond is a book about collapse and how strong people survive. The publisher thought I would like the book, and I did, because writing a funny, lilting story that combines cancer and misery is like straining a failed cheddar cheese sauce through a sieve. You're stuck with a pile of little yellow worms that are hard to disguise, but Downton manages it
Diamonds are prized for their purity, beauty, and cutting power-the same qualities possessed by Dawn Rae Downton's new book
Halifax Daily News
Fresh and original ... natural and engaging prose
Quill and Quire
A book about various kinds of loss, and about accommodating to the understanding of their inevitability, which Downton effects with simultaneous sharpness of perception, alert emotionality and a powerful sense of humor, not least about herself
Globe and Mail
About the book:
Slush pile confidential
Dawn Rae Downton, Globe and Mail, 13 March 2002
Without slings and arrows and insults and every door in the world slammed in his face, a writer can seem a mere dilettante
The Salman Rushdie of Nova Scotia
Graeme Hamilton, National Post, 22 May 2003
Think SARS is a problem? Try 'Localitis'
Heather Mallick, Globe and Mail, 31 May 2003
Book raises ire of residents
Pictou Advocate, 24 May 2003
Diamond is a gem
Halifax Chronicle Herald, 6 April 2003