Navy Band trombonist Jack Lewis has a secret. It is a secret he carries with him from his hometown of Windsor, Ontario to his posting in St. John’s, Newfoundland in the closing days of the Second World War.
It is a secret that he carries with him when he returns home to Windsor with his new bride Vivian, fresh off the train and wide-eyed in the gritty, teeming city.
And finally, it’s a secret he carries with him when he visits his father, William Henry, in hospital after a severe accident leaves him in a coma.
Obviously in writing this review it became necessary to decide whether to share Jack’s secret in order to discuss the plot and characters more fully or to keep the surprise and allow the author to reveal it in his own time. I have decided to do the latter, and here’s why.
Emancipation Day is Wayne Grady’s first novel, having previously written 14 works of non-fiction together with a number of award-winning French translations. The subtle details of his writing are extraordinary, combining civic history lessons (Newfoundland did not become a Canadian province until 1949) with discussions on racism (Windsor, Ontario is located directly across the river from Detroit and shared many of its racist treatments of blacks in the 1940s) and an enthusiastic sharing of his love of 1930s and ´40s jazz and swing music.
But, in some small ways, however, the experienced writer yet inexperienced novelist dichotomy shows. Some of Grady’s situations are easily readable (high school student sleeps with friend’s mother, for example) and some of his minor characterisations verge on stereotypic, but for all its shortcomings, Grady’s novel is compelling enough to want the best experience for the reader. So in true Jack Lewis style – the less said about the secret at this stage, the better.