Maudie

Maudie, Sally HawkinsMaud Lewis today is one of Canada’s best-known primitive painters—quite an accomplishment for a poor, chronically ill woman from a townspeck between the Bay of Fundy and St. Mary’s Bay. This charming film, written by Sherry White and directed by Aisling Walsh (trailer), tells her story. At least in the way that biopics do, leaving you wondering, was Maud’s husband really so prickly? Did they really live in a tiny one-room house? Further research indicates the answers to those questions are probably not and yes.

Maud suffered from painful juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which may have stunted her growth,  and an equally painful awkwardness in social interactions. In marrying Everett Lewis, she finds a man even more emotionally and socially stunted than she is. I can’t say enough about how beautifully Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke play these odd characters. Physically, it had to be a taxing role for Hawkins, because Maud walks with difficulty and, as time passes, becomes more and more bent over. But a wide smile comes readily to a woman who can look at a window and say, “The whole of life, already framed, right there”—both to Hawkins and in photos and film of  the real-life Maud.

They find each other when Everett looks for a woman to cook and clean his one-room house while he runs his fish-peddling and junk collecting businesses. Maud is looking for an escape from under the thumb of her judgmental aunt. When he advertises for help in the general store, this tiny woman appears on his doorstep. She brings order to the house, but Maud’s real desire is to paint. She starts by decorating the walls of Ev’s house, then scrap construction materials he’s brought home. From there, her career as an artist blossoms like her paintings, but since they charge about $5 per picture, it never makes them much money.

Maudie is an uplifting story about a person who made the most of her gifts and whose efforts were recognized in her lifetime, far outside their Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, home. Because she had modest goals—“I’ve got everything I want with you, Ev. Everything.”—she found tremendous satisfaction and joy in her life, despite its challenges.

(Many of Maud Lewis’s paintings are now in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, as is the Lewises’ actual house, restored after the Gallery acquired it in 1984. In May 2017, a Maud Lewis painting sold at auction for $45,000.)

***Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery

Crystal Ball

photo: Jeffrey, creative commons license

By Judy Penz Sheluk – Thirty years ago, Abigail Barnstable disappeared, leaving behind her young husband Jimmy and six-year-old daughter Callie. Raised by her doting father, Callie reaches her mid-thirties oblivious to a mountain of family secrets until Jimmy’s death in an industrial accident starts her on a path of discovery. Callie narrates this present-day cozy mystery by Canadian author Sheluk, set in the fictional town of Marketville, an hour north of Toronto.

The first surprise is in her father’s will. Not only does Callie inherit a house in Marketville, he leaves her $100,000 to fix it up. The catch? She has to quit her dead-end job in a bank call center fraud unit and move into the house for a year. Renovation will be a major undertaking, but her father also left her a connection with the building contractor living next door—a handsome single man named Royce, eager to help Callie develop her fix-up plans.

Oh, and while she’s living there, Jimmy wants her to try to find out what happened to her mother. It seems the police at the time suspected foul play—and Jimmy—but nothing was ever proved. The bequest may be his way of asking her to clear his name. Once Callie takes up residence she encounters a series of intriguing puzzles and clues. I enjoyed muddling along with her as she tried to figure out what they mean and who left them. Though occasionally, Sheluk’s dialog is a little stiff, she moves the plot along briskly, keeping Callie’s ingenuity on high alert.

Callie reaches out for help from a number of colorful characters, including two who claim psychic abilities. (One of them—Callie’s long-time friend and operator of the Glass Dolphin antique shop, Arabella Carpenter—features in Sheluk’s previous mystery, Hanged Man’s Noose, also published this year.) Callie’s never quite sure how much she can trust some of her new confidants, and people keep telling her to “be careful.” While you may never believe Callie is in any physical danger, the risk to her emotional health from mucking around in thirty years’ worth of carefully kept family secrets is significant.

The romantic risk is also real, when Royce’s family turns out to have some pretty big skeletons in its closets too. You’re left to speculate how their budding relationship may play out, because at the end of the book, all possibilities are open. If you like a tidy ending with all questions wrapped up neatly and tied with a bow, this isn’t that. Yet, Sheluk has described her principal characters so well, you may feel, as I did, that you can see into this particular crystal ball.

A longer version of this review appeared on CrimeFictionLover.com.