Alligator by Lisa Moore

A glittering, gritty interweaving of characters struggling with life
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Off the dark, brooding coast of Newfoundland an Inuit man is found dead in his room in St John's, a young woman makes a desperate bid to save the pine martens, and a Russian gangster is carving out his territory. Lisa Moore's glittering third novel revolves around a cast of characters whose lives intersect as they engage in their own mortal battles. Their brittle human struggles, deftly told, are set against a powerfully wrought sensual landscape, tangy with passion, regret, joy and despair.

Madeline is a fiftysomething feature film-maker who gave up her marriage to Marty to pursue her career but still rings him late at night. She is working on borrowed time as her heart is failing, and the budget for her biggest film - set in 19th-century Newfoundland - hangs in the balance.

Her vain star actor Isobel has come home to the island from Toronto and let Valentin, a refugee Russian sailor, into her bed. While he plots his escape by drawing Isobel into his criminal plans, he bullies Frank, whose mother has died of breast cancer.

Frank is desperate to live out his promise to his mother to get a college degree. While he sells hot dogs to tourists off the cruise ships, he falls in love with Madeline's niece, the wayward Colleen, who is grieving over the loss of her stepfather, David. Her mother Beverly is stumbling through widowhood, unwilling or unable to imagine her future without him.

Moore's stories are saturated with the elements. Rain glazes the pavements, hot dogs hiss on the grill, and everywhere in the city is the sinister presence of the elm spanworms, killing off its oldest trees. Frank's neighbour warns him to avoid the Russians living upstairs in their boarding house as she gathers in her washing. He watches her "absent-mindedly picking the worms out of her underwear as she spoke".

Moore's Newfoundland is in stark contrast to the twee picture-postcard world of The Shipping News. She is a writer with a feel for place as gritty as dirt under your fingernails, who creates a vivid picture that shivers with the elements, delighting and disturbing the senses. And there is power in the sparse texture of her writing, stripped down to reveal an essence of a modern place only just emerging from the bleak Irish Catholic colony of Madeline's film.

In Alligator there is plenty of charm, but also a deeply intelligent and beautifully written landscape where profound struggles are played out.