Dance Hall Road, Marion Douglas

In Marion Douglas’s most recent novel, Dance Hall Road, one character likens the future to the town’s garbage dump: “People visit the dump with their flashlights, shining these yellowy circles around looking for something to be scared of … Then they dig a hole and dump in a secret box or two of mess themselves. Then these contents mix up with the others and the sun rises over this big, tangled up situation.”  Dance Hall Road explores the connections, both visible and secret, between the lives of those in the small town of Flax in 1970.

The novel’s multiple plotlines move back and forth in time and hinge on the suspicious death of “at-risk” teen, Cheryl Decker. Douglas deftly conceals the details of her death throughout the majority of the novel, disclosing theories and gossip from the five or so families that are at its core and bound through affairs, odd friendships, and rivalries. Adrian Drury is the unlikely protagonist, an awkward fifteen-year-old who is frequently blamed (by himself and by others) for Cheryl’s death, despite the urgings of his unflappable sister, Rose. While Adrian and Cheryl share a sweetly clumsy relationship, Rose finds herself oddly drawn to Maddy Farrell, an outcast basketball player labelled a “girl-boy” and “escapee from Dr. Seuss.”

Douglas’s characters are almost painfully realistic, full of complicated histories and embarrassing desires. Standouts include Randy Farrell, a strangely insightful, OCD-afflicted epileptic; Anastasia Van Epp, Rose’s witty and catty best friend, known for her Barbie reenactments of events; and Jimmy Drake Senior, the electric chair-obsessed, macho janitor.  Even though the narrative is made up of many subplots, Douglas’s prose is clear, accessible, and sprinkled with  unexpected humour.  Thanks to Douglas’s multiple narratives, beautifully-written dialogue, and tangled up characters, Dance Hall Road is gripping and original.

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