Unlocking

By Heidi Klaassen

by Amy LeBlanc, University Of Calgary Press, 2021/$19.99/96 pp.

Amy LeBlanc’s debut novella begins with the words of Euphemia Rosenbaum, an eccentric and mysterious woman in the small town of Snowton, Alberta: “Here’s what I’ve always said: a goldfish will eventually grow to fit the size of its bowl, and the same is true of secrets.” From here we learn about the secrets of Louise Till, a middle-aged woman in the town who inherits her father’s hardware store after the sudden and somewhat suspicious deaths of her parents. Lou sells power tools and fixes furniture. She cuts keys for the people of Snowton, including a copy of each key for herself. She has no reason to do this—she is not a criminal and has no intention of using the keys. She just likes the feel of them. It fosters memories of learning to use the key-cutting machine with her father, and she counts the keys regularly, feeling their sharp edges. She knows which houses they unlock by the distinct peaks and valleys in the metal. Lou hides them all in a bag she carries over her shoulder.

Each day, Lou speaks to her mom and dad when she visits the cemetery, her bag and her heart heavy. Over the winter months she has unravelled; on the verge of divorce from her husband, Edward, Lou sleeps on a cot at the back of the hardware store, away from her home, her kids and everything she once knew. She hopes to learn how to live alone and seems to keep everyone in the small town at arm’s length. Despite this, the keys keep her tethered to Snowton, providing a sense of connection and calm until, on impulse, she decides to use one—and finds herself in a tricky situation.

Just as Louise keeps the keys, Euphemia Rosenbaum keeps the secrets of Snowton. Together, they embark on a mission to solve the sudden death of someone dear to Euphemia, and Lou realizes the keys in her bag no longer provide the catharsis they once did. Uncovering the secrets of her town takes Louise into the lives of her neighbours and friends, where she discovers more about herself than she ever could have imagined.

LeBlanc, winner of the 2020 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta’s Emerging Artist Award, is known for her poetry but has now made her mark in fiction with Unlocking. The book features unforgettable characters and a voice that captures the ebb and flow of heartbreak and grief. The narrative feels like a fantastic short story but with the depth of a great novel that you can’t put down. The people of Snowton are authentic, flawed and endearing; they are the folks we know, the community we call neighbours, who are both familiar and mysterious. We can all relate to Louise Till’s need for comfort during difficult times and the unpredictable ways of coping with loss.

Heidi Klaassen is a fiction and non-fiction writer in Calgary.

RELATED POSTS

The Company: The Rise and Fall of the Hudson’s Bay Empire

During the 19th century, its own employees often joked that the Hudson’s Bay Company’s initials (HBC) stood for “Here Before Christ.” For many Canadians, there has always been a Hudson’s Bay Company. Canadians have grown accustomed to shopping at “The Bay,” and have associated some of its premier brands such ...

Firewater:

One of the many Canadian communities hit hard by the ongoing fentanyl debacle is Standoff, Alberta, headquarters of the Kainai (Blood) First Nation, where a state of emergency was declared in 2015 to try and get control of the crisis. It is sadly ironic that Standoff should make the news ...