Circle of Stones
By Suzanne Alyssa Andrew. Dundurn, 272 pp, softcover
Equal parts suspense and adventure, author Suzanne Alyssa Andrew’s debut novel Circle of Stones weaves together a complex tale about love and loss told through many different perspectives. At the centre of the plot is Nik, a troubled art student at Emily Carr University, and Jennifer, a tarot-card-reading aspiring dancer. When Jennifer leaves without warning, a distraught Nik sets off to find his muse at any cost. However, as the story progresses, other characters propel the narrative forward, as Nik and Jennifer take a back seat.
Raised in B.C. and currently residing in Toronto, Andrew brings the various Canadian settings of the novel to life. The story bounces from Campbell River to the bustling urban sprawls of Vancouver, Ottawa, and Toronto. Andrew’s references to recognizable locations and notable institutions (the Granville Street Bridge, Queensway Avenue, CBC Radio, and the National Arts Centre, among others) give Canadian readers in particular something tangible to enjoy.
After the introduction of Nik and Jennifer, the novel quickly shifts gears by focusing on a different set of characters linked somehow to the couple in each of the following chapters. Tim, a 30-something ex-punk turned filmmaker tracks down his old university friends only to find they are now sellouts living in suburbia. After an uncomfortable visit with them, Tim encounters Jennifer serving at a greasy-spoon diner. He becomes smitten with her beauty and attempts to pick her up under the guise of offering her a role in his next documentary. Lucy, who has a chance encounter with Nik in Ottawa, grieves the loss of her mother in an unusual way: she makes a game out of ironing her clothes on the subway before she can get caught by transit police. Although many of these strangers are broken but interesting people, it’s hard to connect to them entirely, as their time in the novel is brief.
As the book is a relatively short read at 272 pages, there was room for further development and closure on some of the more intriguing players, including the main protagonists. A greater exploration of their motives would have helped to strengthen readers’ emotional connection to the novel.
Circle of Stones is a promising debut containing familiar settings, a damaged cast, and tight, realistic dialogue. The larger theme surrounding the pursuit of love at all costs works as a satisfying plot device that helps tie the narrative together. Circle of Stones is a quick, appealing read that, in the end, leaves us to ponder the pursuit of our own happiness.