Caroline Woodward: Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny. 2010. 256pp. Oolichan Books.
Here’s the back cover description of the book: “Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny is a contemporary story about middle-aged love enduring despite prolonged separations. The story winds around Penny Toland, resolute ranch wife and part-time teacher, and her husband, Wade, reluctant rancher and good man, adrift behind the wheel of his long-haul truck. Wade loops south on an odyssey from the Peace River region to the West Coast and across the province through the Okanagan and Kootenays. At home, Penny endures covetous neighbours, not-so-friendly bank managers, and suave strangers, while Wade encounters lotus-landers, biker gangs, and a ravishing all-woman country punk band called The Sireens. As the first winter blizzard blankets the north country, Wade makes a desperate push home to prove his love for Penny.”
Ms Woodward has described the novel as “a retelling of The Odyssey,” and this is one of my favourite aspects of Penny Loves Wade…: Wade (Odysseus) battles lotus eaters (a.k.a. the motley crew of lotus-landers mentioned above) and sirens (that all-girl punk band), plus numerous other mishaps, in his attempts to return home to his Penelope. I enjoyed the modern twist Ms Woodward put on the story by making Wade a trucker and Penny have to fight off more than mere suitors!

Right from the outset, we get a clear picture of the couple: the love, the attraction, the exasperation, the patterns developed between any two people who have known each other for a good long time – we warm to them, recognizing relationships in our own lives. The narrative switches back and forth between Penny’s and Wade’s point of view, mostly in the third person and sometimes slipping, with a natural feel, into the deeper thought of first person. Both characters have wonderfully distinctive voices, with Ms Woodward settled deeply and comfortably inside each character’s skin, and their vocabularies and ways of speaking and preoccupations feel, again, natural and true. Wade’s sections have movement and adventure. Penny’s battles are different, on the domestic front (and here I will say that for me, Penny’s sections took a little longer to get going: they felt somewhat static until she actually left the ranch). I admired the tenacity of both – especially Penny, who just gets on and does the things she needs to do to keep the household running in Wade’s absence, which is just one absence in many. The details of both worlds are strong, and I visualized them clearly. These characters are easy to “see” and “hear”.

I enjoyed and appreciated the dual points of view, but as the novel builds to its climax,  I did find myself slightly detached from a narrative thread that I wanted to grip me more (and I may be alone in feeling this): having access to both storylines meant we could see what was happening in each character’s world, and knowing that both were safe caused a lessening in the tension for me. Maybe one of the character’s points of view could have been “blacked out” here, so that we had no access? But that might have felt forced or unnatural, and maybe it wasn’t the point:  one of the major themes of the novel is the endurance of love. Wade has always come home before and will keep coming home and this time is no different. Lastly, some copy-editing choices (I didn’t understand the occasional lapse into single quotation marks for dialogue, for example) and errors made me stumble in my reading. But on the whole, this is a fast-paced novel from a writer who knows her subject matter and her region, and even her trucks…!