The last time I read a Jane Urquhart novel I was in the midst of breaking up with my boyfriend. I was reading Away in a coffee shop waiting for my boyfriend to show up so we could have the talk. It was terrible. And here I am again, reading a Jane Urquhart novel, realizing, and now planning, that I need to stop seeing the man I’ve been dating for the last couple of months. Painful. Yet, Urquhart’s characters inspire me.
In The Nigh Stages, Tam is stuck in the Gander, Newfoundland airport as she is trying to create a new life for herself away from her lover and is stuck waiting for fog to clear. She is leaving Niall, a married Irish man who gives her just enough hope for a relationship and something real that she continues to be with him. Niall is looking for his missing brother, Kieran, because he feels guilty for taking all of the things Kieran loves in order to win in life, a bike race and a wife. All the while, Tam is in the airport remembering and reflecting, looking at the Gander airport’s mural by Kenneth Lochhead, who is also reflecting on how his mural came to be. This is a novel about humans whose lives become complicated because of missed moments, harsh reality, and painfully persistent hope.
“In the next twenty-four hours Kenneth would come to a full understanding about waiting and its sister, hope, how even as you lie in an empty bed at two o’clock in the morning, even when the room you have rented is yours for only three more morning hours, hope will still cross the room to meet you, if only to keep you turning on the spit. You argue her away from you only to discover that some semblance of her remains in the shadows where the light of the lamps doesn’t quite reach, or just behind a door where a knock might be heard at any moment…Yes, she was there in the mural, the one significant event that never happened. The path that hope had walked and the corner that she turned” (Pg 325-26).
The pain that hope gives is worth it when what we are waiting for arrives, or turns up in a positive way we weren’t expecting. Yet the pain of hope can become unbearable when we realize that we are the only ones hoping and waiting, and that our hope is just wasted energy. That significant event that never happened. As I was reading this story of waiting and expectation, this story of hoping for love in the wrong places, I couldn’t help but think of a song by Stars: “Romantic Comedy.” In the song, one of the lyrics keeps sticking with me: “I cannot hold on and I cannot let go.” That place of being stuck in hope: you want to hold on, yet you know it’s time to let go. That’s where I find myself, which is why I think I can sympathize with Tam, the woman who is settling for half of a relationship because she has hope that it will turn into something more. Painful hope. It’s hard to let go and take the risk of being alone and missing out on something that might be. Even the littlest glimpse of hope keeps people holding on longer than they should, me included. Which is why in the end, I understand Tam and her struggle.
I will say that Tam was not my favourite character in this book. The character I liked the most was Kieran, the strange Irish cycler who leaves his home as a child and lives with the family’s house keeper in the country. He has hopes and dreams and works toward them. Yet when life takes away his hope (his brother takes his romantic interest and his glory in a cycling race), he continues on doing his own thing. This reminds me of Ben Howard’s song “Keep Your Head Up.” He writes: “Lookin’ out at this happiness/ I searched for between the sheets/ Oh feelin’ blind, I realize/ All I was searchin’ for, was me/ All I was searchin’ for was me…Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.” Kieran was the only character in the novel who was able to move on. He was the only character with the inner strength to take care of himself first. Yes, he was hurt (just as he was hurt in the cycling race), but he kept going: “It was these things that made him come to know it was morning, and that the day about to break was Wednesday” (Pg 396).
So for now I’m stuck a little, like Tam, waiting for some fog to clear so I can make some hard decisions. Yet I don’t want to let my hope for something more turn into a fear of something less. More hope, less fear! Love for self, less for something that doesn’t exist yet.