Mac O’Dowd has to be out of Montreal before New Years. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a groom by spring and the idea of living that kind of lie is suffocating. But with his mother, the church, and his friends pressuring him to make the “right” decision and settle down with a local girl, Mac finds himself stretched to the breaking point. He decides to ask for a job at the logging camps; it’s dangerous and hard work, but it means earning enough money to go West, away from the demands of a society that doesn’t understand who he is. Getting the job means approaching the home of the wealthy and sinister Latendresse family. Gedeon Latendresse is supposed to have cheated a demon and now a curse lies over the family. But then Mac meets Honore, Gedeon’s nephew, and Honore soon becomes a light in Mac’s otherwise dark world.
Honore is fragile, according to his family, prone to anxiety and spells that leave him hallucinating and weak. But Mac knows he’s stronger than he looks. He knows Honore pours his soul into the piano and poetry and he’s everything that Mac has ever wanted. But despite the love Honore and Mac share, the Latendresse curse is very real and it will threaten their lives as well as their hearts. Because the Devil always gets his due.
So I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Witchin’ Canoe. The premise sounded intriguing, but beyond that I was curious more than anything. What I got was an amazingly tender love affair between two broken men and a living, breathing curse that was by turns unintentionally comical and deeply sinister.
Honore and Mac are men from opposite ends of the class spectrum, but they’ve both known great loss and emotional desolation. Despite having people who love them, they are lost men and, as readers, we see they are only found once they discover one another. They’re well developed and highly engaging characters, each unique and multi-layered. The author has done a great job of describing life in Montreal during the 1800s, from its deadly floods, to the British/French divide that runs through the city, and the problems facing people of color. It’s a strong story that never lags and has moments of real tension, which is something I always appreciate.
Now for the curse. It’s not just metaphorical. Gedeon took a ride from the Ferryman, or a ferryman or a demon. Something like that. But he broke the rules and now there’s a price to be paid, perhaps by everyone around him. The idea of brokering a deal with the supernatural is hardly new, but there is the sense that the consequences of this are real and possibly deadly. So in that regard, the curse adds a real layer of gravity to the story. However, when we get towards the end of The Witchin’ Canoe and we get a practical description of the canoe and how it works, it felt a little silly. This likely wasn’t intentional and maybe other readers won’t see it the same way. But for me, the plot line involving the curse was well balanced until the end when it became somewhat absurd. Additionally, the writing style of The Witchin’ Canoe occasionally felt too flowery and over the top.
On the whole, The Witchin’ Canoe was a great read. It has some issues, but they aren’t enough to detract from the overall story or from its wonderful characters. Honore and Mac are the show stealers and their love affair definitely feels like one for the ages.