I’m 79 pages into A Student of Weather, a novel by Elizabeth Hay. Brilliant — that overused adjective — is in order here. Hay is one of those rare, observant writers who can capture character, feeling, mood, and setting in a few words, phrases, or sentences.
The book begins in a small farming community on the Saskatchewan prairie, in the dust-bowl year of 1938. A leading character is Maurice, a 23-year old botanist from Ottawa who comes to the farming community several times a year to study prairie grasses. A middle-aged woman who develops a crush on Maurice discovers that he doesn’t remember her from his previous visit:
[H]e trailed disappointment behind him and was unaware of it. She was only a vague face in his mind, a farmwife from Belgium, or was it Holland?
And then she realized the value of Prairie reserve. It was reliable, it did not set you up for disappointment, it let you alone and it was balanced by steady courtesy. People never failed to recognize you, and they never pried.
Hay has been doing this for 79 pages. I have no doubt that she will continue doing it for the next 285 pages.