Quill&Quire review of Dollybird

Quill and Quire
Reviewed by: Alexis Kienlen

Set in and around Moose Jaw and Ibsen, Saskatchewan, in 1906, Dollybird tells the story of a 20-year-old Newfoundlander named Moira Burns who is banished by her mother when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Thanks to her doctor father, Moira has some medical knowledge, but few ways to obtain an income.

One of the options available to her is to become a dollybird, which means acting as a housekeeper for a man who is unmarried, widowed, or separated from his wife. The position was often viewed with suspicion by homesteaders, who considered dollybirds little more than common prostitutes for their employers. Moira is hired by a young Irish-Catholic homesteader from the Maritimes named Dillan Flaherty. Dillan harbours secrets and shames, and has the additional challenge of taking care of his young son.

Lazurko’s thorough research of the history of prairie homesteading shows in the effective way she captures the period. The story is narrated in the first person, alternating between Moira’s voice and Dillan’s. Each perspective is well developed and distinctive. The descriptions of hardships endured by homesteaders at the turn of the 20th century are interesting, and historical details add to the book’s flavour and believability. Throughout, Lazurko reveals the ways in which her characters are victims of the Puritan religious ideology of the time.  The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and the book is a fast and easy read.

Dollybird could easily have strayed into predictability and cliché, but Lazurko manages to keep the story fresh and interesting. The novel is a valuable addition to historical literature of the prairies.

 

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