Dominique Fortier’s novel Wonder links three different stories connected by time, fate and family… and volcanoes.
We begin with “Monsters and Marvels”. Set in 1902, the story centres around Baptiste, a working-class black man from the island of Martinique who has never known a real family. The elites of the island persist in ignoring the warning signs of the bubbling Mount Pelee which soon erupts, leaving Baptiste truly alone as no other survivors are found. His unique position gets him a job with the Barnum & Bailey Circus where he and the other “Phenomena” (the bearded lady, conjoined twins) are the objects of pity and astonishment. His loneliness is assuaged somewhat when he finally finds a family – as well as a passion which ends in tragedy. Throughout his journey, Baptiste cannot shake the feeling that he is still the solitary man who wanders the island.
“Monsters” is followed by “Harmony of the Spheres”, in which the intellectually self-absorbed Edward Love finds happiness when he meets Garance, a musician gifted with the ability to hear every sound in her environment. Edward is obsessed with mathematical formulas, while Garance can often be found with her ear to the earth, listening. When they visit the ancient city of Pompeii, they immerse themselves in understanding the tragedy that incinerated a vibrant town in the midst going about its daily business.
Set a century later, “Love Waves” depicts a modern-day romance between a Montreal dog walker and former circus performer, and the grave digger she meets on Mont Royal. Fascinated by volcanoes himself, her nameless friend is also planning a trip to Pompeii. Does her history with the circus and his interest in volcanoes connect these lovers to the first two stories?
At times each story is absorbing and Fortier is adept at describing growing romance and passion. However, very wordy descriptions abound and get somewhat tiresome. For example, high-society life figures prominently in “Monsters” although it has little to do with Baptiste. Intellectual ramblings make up a big part of Edward’s life in “Spheres”, often slowing the story to a crawl. And Fortier paints a vivid picture of the forest in “Waves”; but when will the two characters fall in love already?!?
Still, Wonder is worth reading as the heart of each story makes it worthwhile.