Our Daily Bread
A Novel by Lauren B. Davis
2011 / 257 Pages
The Setup: A novel about what happens when we view our neighbours as “The Other” and the transformative power of unlikely friendships; Our Daily Bread is inspired by the true story of the Goler Clan of Nova Scotia.
The God-fearing people of Gideon shun the Erskine Clan, who have lived on North Mountain in poverty, secrecy and isolation, believing their neighbours to be beyond salvation. “That’s the mountain,” they say. “What do you expect from those people?”
Yet in both groups nearly everyone has secrets and nothing is as it seems.
On the mountain, Albert Erskine dreams of a better and safer life for his younger brothers and sisters. He lives by his code: “You keep your secrets to yourself and you keep your weaknesses a secret and your hurts a secret and your dreams you bury double deep.”
In town, young Ivy Evans is relentlessly bullied by her classmates. Though her father, Tom, is a well-liked local, his troubled marriage to a restless outsider is a source of gossip. As rumors and innuendo about the Evans family spread, Ivy seeks refuge in Dorothy Carlisle, an independent-minded widow who runs a local antique store.
When Albert ventures down the mountain and seizes on the Evanses’ family crisis as an opportunity to befriend Ivy’s vulnerable teenage brother, Bobby, he sets in motion a chain of events that changes everything. (From the hardcover edition)
Based on the shocking lives of the Nova Scotia’s infamous Goler clan the subject matter that forms the basis for author Lauren B. Davis’ latest novel Our Daily Bread is icky to say the least. Child abuse, pedophilia, incest, it’s all served up here, and it’s even topped off with one of the most disturbing real life quotes, pulled directly from the Goler trial transcripts, that you’ll ever have the displeasure of reading. However a funny thing happens on the way to gross town.
Davis could have been content to deliver a highly exploitative novel purely for entertainment’s sake, but wisely she decided to take a different path. The violence and abuse perpetrated by her fictional Erskine clan of mountain folk is ever palpable, but it takes a back seat to Davis’ exploration of the uniquely human concept of moral obligation.
For years the Erskine clan has been living in the mountains, bootlegging alcohol, growing marijuana, abusing their children and each other. Why does no one from any of the surrounding towns step in to try to put a stop to it all? The short answer is that the townsfolk see themselves good God fearing Christian individuals and that they consider those there mountain folk to be awful beings beyond reproach. “They” can’t be helped. “They” are evil. “We” shall pray for their souls. Us and them. A story as old as time.
Still, what makes a person willfully ignore the desperate pleas of another human being in pain? It’s obvious to everyone in the area that what’s occurring on the mountain is flat out wrong, yet no one seems willing to extend a hand and come to the aid of the defenseless children who are forced to suffer at the hands of their family members on a daily basis.
Further complicating matters, Davis introduces Albert Erskine, an intelligent member of the mountain clan who’s been branded as bad, but desperately wants to rise above his upbringing to make something more of his life. When he meets a young teenage boy from town who is also in distress things take a turn for the weird. Could this adult and the teenage boy named Bobby form a friendship based solely on the fact that both of their families are considered “odd?”
Bobby’s mother is an outsider and an adulterer. The latter fact is evident to everyone in town except for Bobby’s father Tom. The high and mighty townsfolk, the “good” Christian people, they love to gossip about anything and everything. As a result Bobby and his younger sister Ivy have a tough go of it. Both are considered outcasts at school and are targeted by bullying children with nothing better to do.
While Bobby’s relief comes in the form of his new friendship with the partially misunderstood Albert, Ivy’s comes from a bond she forms with an elderly shop keeper who bucks the stereotypical definition of what a denizen of the town should be. Dorothy doesn’t attend church, she doesn’t gossip, and she’s got a sympathetic disposition to those who endure life on the mountain. Slowly she becomes the glue the holds Tom, Bobby, and Ivy’s family together, but a miscalculation on her part could tear apart everything she’s worked so hard to maintain.
Our Daily Bread surprises as it oscillates between being a nearly unputdownable page-turner and a heady, slow down and think about what’s occurring and why meditation in almost equal measure. Davis’ writing style is deft and reminiscent of Lisa Unger, minus her penchant for horrible narrative structure. How many people will shy away from this particular novel because of its perceived graphic content? That remains to be seen, but while admittedly there are portions of the text that are difficult to swallow, Our Daily Bread ultimately becomes much greater than the sum of these scattered, horrific moments.