Review: The Boathouse, William Meikle, 2018.
This and Songs of Dreaming Gods are the only full novel length treatments of Meikle’s Sigils and Totems idea. That’s the notion that there are strange houses about the earth where other dimensions can be glimpsed and where our dead loved ones might be seen again in some other timeline where they live on.
But Meikle violently wrenches and twists his idea about here, reminds us that we don’t know how these houses are created and how they work, and implies other forces beyond are ken can alter that function.
Whereas Songs of Dreaming Gods was claustrophobic and set in a house whose rooms shift in time, this novel is open aired. Very little of it takes place in its Sigil House. Rather, most of it takes place in Catalina, Newfoundland which happens to be Meikle’s home. Of all his stories I’ve read, this and Island Life seem to best evoke a place. There’s the run down harbor which has seen better days, the local bar, the hills about the shore. Also, a significant portion of the story has Catalina blasted by a hurricane. Meikle makes you feel the fury of that hurricane as it floods the town’s streets.
Our hero is David Wiggins. He’s not a cop or adventurer or soldier like a lot of Meikle heroes. He sells magazine ads in Toronto. But a call from back home in Catalina convinces him he should see his dying mother.
He’s not exactly a likable figure in the first few chapters. He hasn’t spoken to his mother in years. He’s even ambivalent about visiting her as she dies, but regrets and love and affection are discovered as he talks with his mother in her last minutes of life.
And she leaves him a memento: a chess piece, a king carved out of a whale’s teeth.
And soon, as David re-establishes his relationship with his old boyhood friend Scott Nobles, he finds out lots of people have similar chess pieces in town, and they take them on frequent trips to the boathouse where they can visit the dead.
Meikle doesn’t do his usual multi-viewpoint here. The story is all told through David’s eyes though he jumps back and forth between his boyhood in the town and his return.
And his return just happens to coincide with a lot of people dying.
Meikle’s explanation for all the weirdness is so unexpected, so novel, that I had to skim parts of the book to see if I missed something. I still don’t see all the linkages between events, all the whys, but I felt there was an order behind the events. Sometimes a weird fiction writer just has to know when to stop with the explanations and just go with “because”.
This and Broken Sigil are my favorite of the Sigils and Totems series. The latter is the classic demonstration how the Sigils and Totems work. This novel is, so far, Meikle’s most inventive variation on it. But I also liked its atmosphere and setting, the blasting winds and rains of Catalina and the wonderfully described Eye, location of the boathouse.
And, if I’m completely honest, the death of David’s mother and his coming to terms with it, caught me in a melancholy moment because of my own mother’s recent death (not, I hasten to add, in any circumstances similar to Wiggins’ mother).
I’d recommend this book for fans of weird fiction even if you aren’t interested in the central Sigils and Totems conceit.