The Watcher, by Sara Davison (Word Alive Press, 2011)
One traumatic night changed Kathryn Ellison’s life. Now, 20 years later, she has a chance at love and she’s ready to take it.
But first, she must confront a shoebox of memories.
Each item deserves a final look before she burns it. Each look takes readers into Kathryn’s past, to pain but also to glimpses of hope and healing.
Kathryn has raised her daughter, Lexi, with the help of her supportive family. Lexi is a young woman now, determined to find the father she never knew—and unaware that he’s a rapist.
I’m leery of reading about sexual violence, but I made it through the novel unscathed. The details come out in gradual doses, with nothing gratuitous or graphic. Kathryn’s pain is real, but so is her love for her daughter and for others in her life. After 20 years, she lives a normal, if solitary, life. She’s accepted what happened—though she’d never have chosen it—and so found healing.
Because it’s been so long since the events of that night, Kathryn—and readers—have a bit of emotional distance. Extensive flashbacks aren’t widely favoured, but this novel wouldn’t work in straight time. There would be too many superfluous details to wade through.
We experience key moments from her past that reveal the progress she’s made, and that’s enough. We also trace her growing attraction to Nick, the man who’s calling her to leave the past behind.
The Watcher would have been a compelling read on these terms alone, but Sara Davison gives it a fresh twist. In a time when novels are mostly first- or third-person as told by strong, key players, this one is narrated by Kathryn’s invisible companion, a being who can watch and wait but not physically interfere. The watcher and companions like Grace, Faith and Love, operate under the Creator’s own watchful eye.
The watcher adds humour and compassion to what might otherwise be a difficult read. She’ll occasionally turn from the narrative to address the reader directly. Again, it’s not usually done these days, but it works really well. She had me on page one and kept me through the story.
Have a look at one of her pithier observations:
Although it’s almost always better when Truth shows up, he is a bit of a showman and I often wonder if it’s as necessary as he seems to think to burst onto the scene like Liza Minnelli sweeping onto the stage, arms spread, and singing at the top of her lungs. [p. 142]
The watcher’s brief comments to readers are clearly set apart from the regular text with italics and with small images. It works really well. The flashbacks are separated from Kathryn’s present time by a few blank lines, and this has its limitations. If the blanks fall at the end of a page, it’s not immediately clear that there’s been a break. I think inserting a mark of some kind would have made it clearer.
There are three main timelines woven through the novel: Kathryn’s present, events of 20 years ago, and significant developments bridging from then to now. Since all involve the same characters, at times I had trouble discovering which time I was in.
Two things I’d have liked to see cleared up were what happened to the man who planned Kathryn’s abduction (and why he never seemed to do anything else towards his intended victim) and why her boyfriend Ty didn’t rush to her side in the hospital. Despite that, and despite a key copyediting oops where the watcher clings to the inverted promise that “the darkness always overcomes the light” [p. 186], I highly recommend reading The Watcher.
Sara Davison’s (or is it the watcher’s?) voice is fresh and vivid, with strong descriptive skills. This debut Canadian author is worth checking out.
Read an excerpt from The Watcher here, and find discussion questions here. The unpublished manuscript won Word Alive Press’ 2010 publishing contest in the fiction category, and was published in March 2011. Sara Davison blogs at Choose to Press On. You can also find her on her website and on Facebook, as well as at the Great Canadian Authors site.