Book Review: Atlantic Winds by William Prendiville
Something dark is brewing beneath the peaceful Main Street stores and picturesque mountains of Bear Lake, a small island town in 1970s Canada. Tom is spending his days hanging out with his best friend Cormic: biking along Elizabeth Street, stealing apples, and awkwardly flirting with Sasha, a girl from the neighbourhood. But there is increasing unrest bleeding into town – wildcat strikes, rumours of layoffs – and when a serious incident occurs at the mill, the community is quick to assign blame. Atlantic Winds, a debut novella by William Prendiville, is a sharp and suspenseful examination of the small-town mentality and the devastating effects that gossip and harassment can have on a person’s life.
Prendiville does an excellent job of building an increasingly unsettling atmosphere of a Stephen King-y town where nothing ever happens until it does – with days fuelled by boredom, gossip, and situational friendships (“‘Let’s go to the Brichards’,’ Tom said off-handedly, and so there they’d gone. There wasn’t a great deal else to do in town”). He weaves in subtle moments that disturb the tranquillity of the setting, indicating that the characters are suspended in the calm before the storm:
The feeling that something bad had happened in Bear Lake is present from the very beginning. The novella starts from showing a mysterious tombstone and moving on to “the day it all began,” gradually reconstructing the events through flashbacks and changing perspectives. But while suspense is part of what makes Atlantic Winds enjoyable, this is not a murder mystery story; and if there is a real suspect in the book, Prendiville seems to suggest, it might be the Bear Lake community itself, with its constant hushed rumours and judgemental stares: “It was a general suspicion,” Prendiville writes about their pointed fingers, “unconfirmed, but no less certain because of that.” The stereotypical gossipy neighbours can be funny in their ridiculousness – “you mustn’t listen to gossip around here, my dear, it’s a dreadful habit,” says Mrs Ball before proceeding to relate all the newest rumours circulating around town – but the ultimate effects of their repeated stories are devastating.
So are the effects of harassment, another theme that propels the story. When a local man, Jamie, starts bothering Sasha, it begins from the little things that many women can relate to (and many sexists would still defend): a bit of catcalling, a “whistle or wink,” a loud “Hey-hey, Sasha” on the street. For Sasha, the small-town peacefulness turns stifling and claustrophobic. She tries to take the longer way downtown in hopes of avoiding her harasser; begins to feel “uncomfortable, then uneasy”; finally, when she realises that the man knows her full name and address, “fearful.” This is an incredibly chilling depiction of escalating sexual harassment that can be almost invisible to everyone around but turn the victim’s life into a nightmare.
A clever, enjoyable book that manages to pack a lot of suspense and social commentary into its compact format, Atlantic Winds by William Prendiville is published in the UK by Fairlight Books on 11 July 2019.
PhD Researcher at the University of Stirling, examining the past five decades of Scottish publishing in collaboration with HarperCollins and Publishing Scotland. Graduated with an MSc in Publishing from Edinburgh Napier University and a BA in English from Queen’s University (Canada). Loves Inside Llewyn Davis, Peter Gabriel, and flat design.