The Ashes of Her Shelter is a contemporary adult novel about the bond between sisters, told from the angry and unreliable viewpoint of an activist, Christine, who loves with a twisted loyalty her more conventional sister Leigh-Anne. Throughout their lives, Christine by accident leads Leigh-Anne into danger and fails to protect her from bad relationships with men.
The fast-paced, lyrical, insightful, and well-researched story portrays the spirit of the Canadian West Coast in the 70s and 80s where people were experimenting with alternative lifestyles, pioneering on the Gulf Islands, advocating for women’s rights, and coming out of the closet. The novel portrays the 1976 Habitat conference at Vancouver’s Jericho Beach where Mother Teresa spoke so eloquently about the poor.
Happy and sad ideas of “home” are an intense motif throughout the novel, including chapters based on the themes of clubhouse, dormitory, garret, crypt, and bomb shelter.
Garret (Novel Excerpt)
“Looking at Leigh-Anne standing at the back of this huge demonstration, with her hair wet from the rain, Christine couldn’t help but feel pity for her, a kind of pity which held compassion at its salty core. Leigh-Anne probably hadn’t felt well enough and had been too worried counting missed days, to finish her brilliant green woman painting. Vince had distracted Leigh-Anne—Leigh-Anne the painter—from what was important. Please, not beautiful Leigh-Anne. Do. Not. Hurt. Leigh-Anne! Whatever had attached itself to Leigh-Anne, whatever Vince had opened up and then left thrumming and sloshing inside of her, Christine had to stop.
On the way back from the private abortion clinic in Bellingham, (to which Christine drove in Leigh-Anne’s unreliable Mazda), they made it as far as Peace Arch Park before Leigh-Anne’s painkillers started to wear off and the pain set in. Leigh-Anne groaned so much that she frightened Christine. The more Leigh-Anne groaned, the more the car seemed to shudder. Christine pulled over at the park and made Leigh-Anne take one of her last codeine pills, promising to fill the prescription as soon as she got Leigh-Anne home. It was hard to leave Leigh-Anne to go to the drugstore, though, because Leigh-Anne kept careening to the bathroom, to sit, droopy and exhausted, on the toilet and change her pad yet again. It was true that there was a scary amount of blood on the many pads already tossed into the garbage.
“Phone Mom,” Leigh-Anne said.
“You can’t tell Mom, Leigh-Anne. Besides, she is too far away to help.”
“Phone her. Phone her and ask if this much blood is okay.”
Christine felt dizzy. What had they done? Was Leigh-Anne really okay? “It’s okay, Leigh-Anne. They said it would be like this. Lie down and rest.”
When Christine came back with the codeine, Leigh-Anne was in the bathroom again, washing her face at the sink. She seemed sweaty and confused. “Did you get hold of Mom yet?”
Christine sat down on the toilet and watched Leigh-Anne run the washcloth over the back of her neck. “You know, maybe you better not tell Mom, Leigh-Anne. She might tell Dad or Grandma and they would be devastated. Also, I borrowed the money for it from Mom. I told her it was for the Ovid Books campaign. So, Christ, everything will be in a mess.”
Leigh-Anne nodded slowly at her own reflection in the mirror and gulped down the pill. “You aren’t kidding when you say Dad would be upset! I already know that. What’s Dad going to do? It’s Jesus who already knows, and it’s Jesus I’m worried about.”
“What are you talking about, Leigh-Anne? You’re talking weird.”"