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Jackfish, the Vanishing Village

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is a new novel by Sarah Felix Burns, published by Inanna Publications of Canada. The story is a mix of real historical events and places, combined with a fictionized storyline of a woman which reads like a memoir, moving back and forth between the past and the present day. Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is a deeply moving and haunting book that will stay in your thoughts long after you put it down. It is not an easy read, but it is one will help you understand the lives of others, and be grateful for your own life.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is divided into 4 parts, each section dealing with the emotional growth of Clemance, our narrator and main character. Clemance is trying to cope with a multitude of emotional baggage that all comes to a head when she is taken off her anti-depressant due to an unexpected pregnancy at 42. The book is dedicated to all those who "battle the demons of guilt, shame, addiction, and mental illness", all of which are present in Clemance. Sarah Burns’ writing deftly brings us inside the mind of a woman trying to cope with her present life and her past life, as the demons of her past haunt her daily.

The town of Jackfish, Ontario is was a real town, one that was kept alive through the fishing and logging industries; it was abandoned when trains started using diesel, and no longer needed to stop in Jackfish for coal. Sarah Burns has adapted Jackfish to fit her story, just as she has utilized other real people, places, and events to create a book that feels incredibly real. The rawness of emotion in Jackfish, The Vanishing Village also pulls the reader into the story, Clemance’s story tugs at you.

I had to put down Jackfish, The Vanishing Village a few times during the time I was reading it. Though I am a fast reader, it took several days to read this book; I needed to intersperse it with other, lighter fare. Clemance, her husband Bernie, her friends, and her family are drawn so clearly they jump to life, and the story follows these intense characters. Just as this is not a light read, it is not an easy read, either. Clemance’s life was not an easy one prior to her marriage and pregnancy, and the medication-free pregnancy is triggering memories of those hard times.

Switching back and forth between the present and the past is not easy for authors, nor for the reader. However, in Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, Sarah Burns has written segues that help us understand why Clemance’s mind drifts to the past from the present. The flashback style works so well because we can see inside Clemance’s mind and understand what she is thinking. There are many mysteries locked within Clemance’s brain, though, and we uncover them slowly as she is ready to deal with them. We, the readers, also grow to really like Clemance, and her earlier actions are easier to accept when we have developed a relationship with her.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is an amazingly intricate and intense book, one that truly feels real. If you are a memoir buff, and are considering reading some fiction, this is the right book for you! If you enjoy women’s fiction or literary fiction, you will not be able to put down Jackfish, The Vanishing Village. If you are very sensitive and easily troubled, I would not suggest this book. That said, I am incredibly glad that I read Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, it put my own troubles into a new perspective, and also helped me understand Clemance’s world, and the world of others struggling with abuse, addiction, poverty, and mental illness. Clemance’s life story is one that I will never forget, one that others should read.

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