Barbara Walsh’s Reading- A Student’s Review

Barbara Walsh’s August Gale. Photo courtesy of barbarawalsh.net.

In light of the recent Hurricane Sandy, the Burlington Book Festival gives you a look back to the stormy September day when author Barbara Walsh read from her book, August Gale, which chronicles two stormy tales: one of a deadly Newfoundland hurricane and the fisherman caught out to sea in it; the other, a story of the author’s mysterious grandfather and how his abandonment of his family has left an everlasting impression not only on his son, but also on the author herself.

Read on to find out about Barbara Walsh’s reading at the Burlington Book Festival, told from the perspective of Champlain College professional writing major Taylor Covington.

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Now, to be fair, the setting of the room could not have been more perfect. We, a motley crew of young and old, sat in the Great Room, a room at the end of the building that overlooked the shifting waters of Lake Champlain. That day, the rain poured, the green lake lashed against the shore, and boats of all sizes shivered to stay above the waves. In a word, everything was grey.I’ve been to several author readings at the Texan Writer’s Convention, the Armadillo-Con, and yes, I sat and could imagine every sword, every rough cut, and every pixie sneeze. However, this all changed when Barbara Walsh opened her latest book, August Gale. Once she began reading, you could damn near smell the brine coming from the deck of the schooner.

The weather was on Barbara’s side that day, working with her to set her scene, and not against her, like the poor souls in her novel. She stood in front of us in a nice, pressed, buttoned jacket and black pumps.

She was neither a tall nor unfriendly woman, but without a doubt, she had seen the truly spectacular: the gifted or terrible side of human nature. Her eyes were hard. Not in a cruel way, mind you, but she was tough enough to carry the weight of the truth about prison, about alcoholism and suicide, about the mistreatment of children. She did her job and wrote their stories, but if you squinted, you could still see the tear lines etched on her Irish skin.

It was a hard thing to write, Barbara told us, referring to the memoir. It was a story about her father¹s father, the man who abandoned his family in the middle of the night to father a different set of people entirely. She feared what unearthing the truth might mean, what it might do, who they might meet in the process. This memoir meant uniting a broken Irish family, a lineage of proud people, and pride was most likely the first family bauble to be broken in her search for the truth, Barbara feared.

However, as the stories became words on paper, and chapter after chapter appeared in a lengthy manuscript, it suddenly became apparent that neither side of the family held grudges, and the people in Marystown, Newfoundland had suffered a strange parallel. On that night in August, forty-two people became children in a single-parent household. Their father’s disappearances left them with questions, heartbreak, and memories that didn’t seem to add up. Barbara Walsh said that her own father, the one whose father disappeared by choice, was just as orphaned as the children of the men lost at sea.

She read to us in a straight voice, one as steady and thorough as she was. Bits of a briny Irish accent peaked through, the words as green and wet as Ireland herself. She told us of Captain Paddy, his schooner, and the panic of his forty-two crew members as an apocalyptic storm set in. The rain tapped at the windows as a reminder that it could have been our fathers, our grandfathers, our brothers that the sea opened up and swallowed whole.

When she finished, a foghorn blared across the open lake waters, rousing us from a frightened memory, and echoed in the background as our applause rocked the house.

-Taylor Covington

For more information about Barbara Walsh, visit http://barbarawalsh.net/.

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