Jackfish, The Vanishing Village
a novel by Sarah Felix Burns

978-0-9782233-3-5
234 Pages
November 01, 2007
Fiction All Titles Novel

$22.95

Share:

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village a novel by Sarah Felix Burns

2009 Winner Northern Lit Award

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village tells the story of a woman unravelling from a traumatic past and her yearning for redemption. When her sister dies prematurely, Clemance-Marie Nadeau leaves her family and village behind, boarding a train bound for Sault Ste. Marie, where she falls under the spell of a charming stranger who promises her a life of adventure, and then holds her captive with her guilt and his threats of violence. Years later, when Clemance moves to the United States, she feels like an outsider, but Clemance is also in exile from herself. Discovering she is pregnant at the age of forty-two sets in motion a series of events that awakens a painful memory, long-buried in her embattled body, and so begins the long and sometimes harrowing journey back to her homeland, and to herself. 

Sarah Burns is a gifted writer. Jackfish may have disappeared from the map, but Burns makes it unforgettable. The narrator of this imaginary memoir, Clemance-Marie Nadeau, is a unique individual. The subtle style, effective images, and ambitious structure of the narration draw us into Clemance’s world and make us care about her and those around her. This book is thought-provoking and moving feminist fiction.
—VALERIE RAOUL, Director of the SAGA Centre for Studies in Autobiography, Gender and Age at the University of British Clumbia.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is a fascinating read! Clemance-Marie’s poignant, harrowing journey back to Jackfish carried me through the gamut of anger, rage, shame, shock, grief and elation. Sarah Burns’s novel is a powerful and moving narration of a woman’s search for redemption.
—TYGRE A. WYNTERS , Author of Love’s Second Chance

Sarah Felix Burns grew up in a small village in northern Ontario near Sault Ste. Marie. She has a degree in Women’s Studies and History from the University of British Columbia and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Toronto. A social worker, she has worked for several years in the areas of trauma, addictions, domestic violence, and child protection.

A Gaggle of Book Reviews (review posted online)
http://ourgaggleofgirls.com/books/2008/02/29/jackfish-the-vanishing-village/

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village
Reviewed by Rachel Rowe
February 29, 2008

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is a new novel by Sarah Felix Burns, published by Inanna Publications of Canada. The story is a mix of real historical events and places, combined with a fictionized storyline of a woman which reads like a memoir, moving back and forth between the past and the present day. Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is a deeply moving and haunting book that will stay in your thoughts long after you put it down. It is not an easy read, but it is one will help you understand the lives of others, and be grateful for your own life.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is divided into 4 parts, each section dealing with the emotional growth of Clemance, our narrator and main character. Clemance is trying to cope with a multitude of emotional baggage that all comes to a head when she is taken off her anti-depressant due to an unexpected pregnancy at 42. The book is dedicated to all those who “battle the demons of guilt, shame, addiction, and mental illness”, all of which are present in Clemance. Sarah Burns’ writing deftly brings us inside the mind of a woman trying to cope with her present life and her past life, as the demons of her past haunt her daily.

The town of Jackfish, Ontario is was a real town, one that was kept alive through the fishing and logging industries; it was abandoned when trains started using diesel, and no longer needed to stop in Jackfish for coal. Sarah Burns has adapted Jackfish to fit her story, just as she has utilized other real people, places, and events to create a book that feels incredibly real. The rawness of emotion in Jackfish, The Vanishing Village also pulls the reader into the story, Clemance’s story tugs at you.

I had to put down Jackfish, The Vanishing Village a few times during the time I was reading it. Though I am a fast reader, it took several days to read this book; I needed to intersperse it with other, lighter fare. Clemance, her husband Bernie, her friends, and her family are drawn so clearly they jump to life, and the story follows these intense characters. Just as this is not a light read, it is not an easy read, either. Clemance’s life was not an easy one prior to her marriage and pregnancy, and the medication-free pregnancy is triggering memories of those hard times.

Switching back and forth between the present and the past is not easy for authors, nor for the reader. However, in Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, Sarah Burns has written segues that help us understand why Clemance’s mind drifts to the past from the present. The flashback style works so well because we can see inside Clemance’s mind and understand what she is thinking. There are many mysteries locked within Clemance’s brain, though, and we uncover them slowly as she is ready to deal with them. We, the readers, also grow to really like Clemance, and her earlier actions are easier to accept when we have developed a relationship with her.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is an amazingly intricate and intense book, one that truly feels real. If you are a memoir buff, and are considering reading some fiction, this is the right book for you! If you enjoy women’s fiction or literary fiction, you will not be able to put down Jackfish, The Vanishing Village. If you are very sensitive and easily troubled, I would not suggest this book. That said, I am incredibly glad that I read Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, it put my own troubles into a new perspective, and also helped me understand Clemance’s world, and the world of others struggling with abuse, addiction, poverty, and mental illness. Clemance’s life story is one that I will never forget, one that others should read. I’d love to hear what other readers think of Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, so go pick up a copy and let me know!

This book was received from the publisher for review

February 29th, 2008 by Rachel Rowe

Book Review: Jackfish, The Vanishing Village
by Wendy Robards
March 29, 2008

http://www.caribousmom.com/2008/03/29/jackfish-the-vanishing-village-book-review/

“I know some people - feminists, academics, professionals - think it is incorrect to ask a person where they are from. And maybe they are right. But I need to get a deeper sense of a person by learning about where they are from and how that place shaped their past and their identity. How can we remove ourselves from that? I guess I believe that at some spiritual level the physical land we are from is always part of who we are, even if we are separated from it.” -From Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, page 80-

Jackfish, Ontario - located on the northern tip of Lake Superior - is a real place; a place where fishing and coal represented survival until modern technology doomed the town. It is this location where Sarah Felix Burns sets her fictional story, using the barren village with its dislocated people as a backdrop to the story of Clemance-Marie Nadeau.

The novel begins in the middle of Clemance’s life, long after she has left her homeland of Canada and settled down with her husband Bernie in a rural, backwoods Colorado town. The discovery that she is pregnant catapults Clemance into a downward spiral of depression and repressed memories. The novel’s narrative structure alternates between Clemance’s present life and that of her past. She remembers growing up in Jackfish with her alcoholic father, passive mother and many siblings; she recalls her first love - an Indian man with a troubled past and even darker future; and relives her desire to leave Jackfish to follow her dreams. Clemance’s past includes domestic violence and a secret which has eroded her self-worth and the belief that she is a woman worthy of love.

Thematically, the novel centers around the idea of imprisonment. Clemance lives only blocks from a prison, her old boyfriend is jailed, and Jackfish was a site of internment for Japanese Canadians during WWII. These external symbols of loss of freedom parallel Clemance’s self-imprisonment. She is reluctant to forgive herself, thereby setting herself free to find happiness. The idea of returning to one’s roots, of “coming home,” is also replayed in the novel. It is only through understanding where we come from that we can move forward into the future.

Burns has written a dense book - only 221 pages long - but one which is crammed with emotion. This is a novel about the scars of abuse, the search for oneself, the connection we have to our roots and the road to redemption. Dark and unrelenting, it is a novel which is hard to read. Burns takes her time developing Clemance’s character, and at times I struggled to stick with the book - not because the writing is not wonderful (it is), but because the story is so hard to hear. Eventually, however, this book became impossible put down. I wanted to know what happened to Clemance; I ached to see her finally realize her worth in a world which challenged her faith in others and in herself; I cared about her.

Burns is a talented writer. She has written a novel of importance to women, especially women who have suffered at the hands of another or who have made choices in their lives they regret. Within the darkness of the subject matter, Burns allows a ray of hope and enlightenment.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is recommended for those readers who enjoy good, literary fiction and are not afraid of taking a harrowing journey with a character who could be any one of us. Rated: 4/5.

Wendy Robards is a Physical Therapist who lives with her husband, 2 dogs and 2 cats in Northern California. She also is an active volunteer for her county search and rescue team, as well as a therapeutic horseback riding program for children and adults with disability. Wendy is an avid reader and writer, and enjoys blogging about books at http://www.caribousmom.com . She also has book reviews, short stories and articles published on the ezine Piker Press at http://www.pikerpress.com

OldMustyBooks.com (http://www.oldmustybooks.com)

Sarah Felix Burns: Jackfish, The Vanishing Village

By Rachel Laudiero on Apr 1, 2008 in Featured

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village is an imaginary autobiography about a woman with a traumatic past and her need for redemption. Sarah Felix Burns has masterfully written a book so eloquent in description, yet so horrifically tragic that the line between beautiful and ugliness becomes blurred in a strangely contradictory way.

Burns did such a magnificent job of telling a story that was wrapped up in a small little village that vanished and using it as a metaphor for the main character’s life. Though I realized pretty early on in the story this was what she was doing, the whole story was woven in such a way the village and the main character’s life became synonymous with each other. The difference between the demise of this small village and the downward spiral of the character’s life is the character was able to re-establish herself.

When I reflect on my experience reading Jackfish, I am utterly amazed at the lack of emotion I had while reading this, but also the intense emotion I had when I finished the book. I had become Clemance-Marie Nadeau from the Village of Jackfish in Canada. I’m not sure the last time that happened when I read a book. Just like the character shut herself off from feeling emotion, I shut myself off also…right after the part in the story that would have caused her to shut down.

Burns wrote Jackfish in such a way, I experienced every thing she was describing. I felt the cold weather in Canada. I felt like I had experienced the brutally horrific rapings. I felt like I was falling into the depths of hell without a lifeline to pull me back up. I seriously had to take a shower after these sections. I completely understood her need to tell someone everything and not wait around for analysis. I understand her reasons for leaving her husband and then wanting him back. I was exhausted when I finished this book.

This was the saddest, most tragic book I’ve ever read. Yet, its one of the only books that has ever touched my soul as incredibly as Jackfish has. I don’t think I could ever read it again, but it will always be on my bookshelf. Have you ever heard Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven? If I had to put this book to music, I would pick Moonlight Sonata. Hector Berlioz is said to have remarked that this particular piece “is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify.” This describes exactly my feelings on ‘Jackfish, A Vanishing Village’.

There are few books in this world that tell a story as impactful as “Jackfish, The Vanishing Village”. There are few authors who can tell a story as descriptive and as beautifully as Sarah Felix Burns. I, wholeheartedly, recommend this book. The story deserves your full attention.

Rachel Laudiero publishes OldMustyBooks.com (http://www.oldmustybooks.com), a website dedicated to reviews and commentary on classic and new literature, and works as a freelance editor and reviewer. She has spent the last several years as managing editor and writer for NYFutureStars.com and OnHutchinsonIsland.com, a local travel directory in Florida where she resides. She is also the Operations Manager for Untraditional Media Publishing Systems, a company which uses the Internet to empower clients to pursue their dreams, to develop their own voice, and to deliver what they are most passionate about to the widest possible audience. In her downtime, she is pursuing a degree in literature and is working on her own novel.

The Road to Redemption-Jackfish, The Vanishing Village

April 2, 2008 by Rebecca Rowan

http://ravenousreader.wordpress.com/2008/04/02/the-road-to-redemption-jackfish-the-vanishing-village/

Rarely does a character (particularly one whose life and circumstances are so disparate from my own) latch onto my heartstrings with such tenacity, but that’s exactly what Clemance Marie Nadeau, narrator of Sarah Felix Burns debut novel, has done. 

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, is a stunning work of fiction that reads like a memoir, as Clemance tells us her story in a series of flashbacks - from her impoverished youth in Jackfish, a northern Ontario village which has become a ghost town, to the small city of Coalville, Colorado, where she now finds herself - unemployed, separated from her husband, and pregnant at the age of forty two.

In between lies a painful, sometimes harrowing journey, for Clemance is consumed with guilt about an incident which occurred in her childhood, a guilt that leaves her feeling so unworthy of love that not only has she sabotaged her only good relationship (with her husband Bernie, ever patient and kind), become deeply and dangerously addicted to drugs and alcohol, but she has also allowed herself to become the victim of horrible, vicious abuse at the hands of another man. 

It’s that abuse which is so difficult to read about, revealed midway through the story when the reader has developed a relationship with Clemance, prickly and defensive as she can sometimes be. I occasionally needed to set the book aside for a moment, to separate myself from the violence- but only for a moment, because I was entirely captivated by Clemance’s story and was hoping against hope she could find her way out of this terrible relationship into a life of freedom and possibility. 

For Clemance is just as much a prisoner as the convicts in the penitentiary near her home in Colorado, or her childhood boyfriend who was killed while trying to escape a life sentence for murder, or any of woman who has been victimized in an abusive relationship. 

“Guilt…has a way of festering and compounding over time. When you grow up with the rawness of guilt devouring you from the inside you have few defences against the outside world. To fill the void left from the rampaging badness, you take on the retribution, the punishment, and feel it is rightly deserved. Indeed, it feels almost good. I have been dodging and fleeing that painful force for years…” 

If there is redemption to be found for Clemance, it will come from family - not the family of her birth, but the one of her creation, with Bernie and their daughter Miette, whose birth seems to provide Clemance with some measure of the peace she needs to allow herself to be happy. 

“But is it possible to take a stand? To say that I will no longer put up with this? To believe that I can walk out on those streets with my head held strong and high? I look at the baby cuddled up beside me…she smiles up at me and blows bubbles. Jesus Christ, she’s alive. I am alive. And I gave life to her.” 

It’s easy to become so engrossed in this story that you almost fail to notice what a good writer Burns really is. Her descriptive prose is just as vivid when applied to the real world as to her character’s emotional turmoil. 

“Each summer night in Jackfish, the long black train would pass. It was the freight carrying cargo up north or out west. You could hear it coming up the tracks an hour away. Its rumble slowly grew closer and deeper, becoming so ominous it sounded like the train would explode right through the house. Then it would race by, sometimes for hours it seemed, because the train was so long. Finally, you could hear it fade off into the distance until the night sky was filled again with only the sound of crickets and the waves breaking on the shore.” 

Clemence’s life story is indeed painful, yet Burns handles these deeply troubling epidsodes without ever falling prey to sensationalism or sentimentality. And she provides moments of warmth and peace which soothe the readers emotions while illuminating Clemence’s own needs for comfort and stability. 

Ultimately it is Clemance’s strength and determination the reader latches on to, as we continue devouring her story, cheering for her as she scramles from the pit of worthlessness and degradation. Through it all, she clings to the memories of her hometown, believing that ”at some spiritual level the physical land where we are from is always part of who we are, even if we are separated from it.” 

The village of Jackfish may have disappeared off the map, but it left a lasting impression on this character’s heart and psyche. 

And this novel will do the same for everyone who reads it. 

Rebecca Rowan writes and reviews fiction and non-fiction on her blogs, Bookstack and Becca's Byline. She works as a medical technical writer, and her interests include music, photography, and traveling.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village

Sarah Felix Burns's Novel About One Woman's Longing to Go Home Again 

by Lisa Rufle, February 7, 2008 

"Sarah Felix Burns’ novel truly takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride of emotional circumstances: anger, depression, guilt, pain and ultimate redemption. Its fast-paced highs and lows are balanced out by the unfolding mystery of Clemance’s past. Keep a box of tissues by your side for this one, and enjoy the ride!"

The Road to Redemption-Jackfish, The Vanishing Village

April 2, 2008 by Rebecca Rowan

http://ravenousreader.wordpress.com/2008/04/02/the-road-to-redemption-jackfish-the-vanishing-village/

Rarely does a character (particularly one whose life and circumstances are so disparate from my own) latch onto my heartstrings with such tenacity, but that’s exactly what Clemance Marie Nadeau, narrator of Sarah Felix Burns debut novel, has done.

Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, is a stunning work of fiction that reads like a memoir, as Clemance tells us her story in a series of flashbacks - from her impoverished youth in Jackfish, a northern Ontario village which has become a ghost town, to the small city of Coalville, Colorado, where she now finds herself - unemployed, separated from her husband, and pregnant at the age of forty two.

In between lies a painful, sometimes harrowing journey, for Clemance is consumed with guilt about an incident which occurred in her childhood, a guilt that leaves her feeling so unworthy of love that not only has she sabotaged her only good relationship (with her husband Bernie, ever patient and kind), become deeply and dangerously addicted to drugs and alcohol, but she has also allowed herself to become the victim of horrible, vicious abuse at the hands of another man.

It’s that abuse which is so difficult to read about, revealed midway through the story when the reader has developed a relationship with Clemance, prickly and defensive as she can sometimes be. I occasionally needed to set the book aside for a moment, to separate myself from the violence- but only for a moment, because I was entirely captivated by Clemance’s story and was hoping against hope she could find her way out of this terrible relationship into a life of freedom and possibility. 

For Clemance is just as much a prisoner as the convicts in the penitentiary near her home in Colorado, or her childhood boyfriend who was killed while trying to escape a life sentence for murder, or any of woman who has been victimized in an abusive relationship. 

“Guilt…has a way of festering and compounding over time. When you grow up with the rawness of guilt devouring you from the inside you have few defences against the outside world. To fill the void left from the rampaging badness, you take on the retribution, the punishment, and feel it is rightly deserved. Indeed, it feels almost good. I have been dodging and fleeing that painful force for years…” 

If there is redemption to be found for Clemance, it will come from family - not the family of her birth, but the one of her creation, with Bernie and their daughter Miette, whose birth seems to provide Clemance with some measure of the peace she needs to allow herself to be happy. 

“But is it possible to take a stand? To say that I will no longer put up with this? To believe that I can walk out on those streets with my head held strong and high? I look at the baby cuddled up beside me…she smiles up at me and blows bubbles. Jesus Christ, she’s alive. I am alive. And I gave life to her.” 

It’s easy to become so engrossed in this story that you almost fail to notice what a good writer Burns really is. Her descriptive prose is just as vivid when applied to the real world as to her character’s emotional turmoil. 

“Each summer night in Jackfish, the long black train would pass. It was the freight carrying cargo up north or out west. You could hear it coming up the tracks an hour away. Its rumble slowly grew closer and deeper, becoming so ominous it sounded like the train would explode right through the house. Then it would race by, sometimes for hours it seemed, because the train was so long. Finally, you could hear it fade off into the distance until the night sky was filled again with only the sound of crickets and the waves breaking on the shore.” 

Clemence’s life story is indeed painful, yet Burns handles these deeply troubling epidsodes without ever falling prey to sensationalism or sentimentality. And she provides moments of warmth and peace which soothe the readers emotions while illuminating Clemence’s own needs for comfort and stability. 

Ultimately it is Clemance’s strength and determination the reader latches on to, as we continue devouring her story, cheering for her as she scramles from the pit of worthlessness and degradation. Through it all, she clings to the memories of her hometown, believing that ”at some spiritual level the physical land where we are from is always part of who we are, even if we are separated from it.” 

The village of Jackfish may have disappeared off the map, but it left a lasting impression on this character’s heart and psyche. 

And this novel will do the same for everyone who reads it. 

Rebecca Rowan writes and reviews fiction and non-fiction on her blogs, Bookstack and Becca's Byline. She works as a medical technical writer, and her interests include music, photography, and traveling.

EVIEW BY CY-THEA SAND "Sacred, alluring, and lingering, your homeland is the entity that shapes you. You cannot deny it. Place is destiny." So says Sarah Felix Burns in Jackfish, the Vanishing Village. This novel begins and ends with Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world by volume. A majestic waterway, Lake Superior is described in the narrative's first sentence as a "jagged, blue wolf's head." The image resonates throughout Burns' lyrical, hard-edged account of Clemance-Marie Nadeau, born poor and female in the town of Jackfish on the shores of Lake Superior in 1957. Throughout her life, the natural world remains a symbol of freedom for a protagonist who is horribly traumatized by abuse, shame and terror. 

We meet Clemance-Marie when she is living alone with three pet dogs. Burns is never sentimental about their importance to her character's sanity. Indeed, we become more and more grateful for their gentle, reassuring presence. Clemance-Marie reveals her story slowly; she offers detailed portraits of her parents and siblings, her time in a Winnipeg treatment centre, her art student days in Vancouver, and then guides readers back to her current life, where she awaits the birth of her second child in the small town of Coalville, Colorado. A life is being recovered chapter after chapter, while another one (a symbol of hope) is being reproduced. We don't learn the fate of Clemance-Marie's first baby for several pages into the narrative, but by the time we do we fear the worst.

A haunting quality informs the prose in Jackfish, and Burns sustains an awful sense of foreboding. I felt mesmerized—pleased that her writing is so good, impatient to know what happened, and dreading the details. When Clemance-Marie finally lets her worse memories flow, I was in that tiny therapy room holding her hand and my breath. In her author's note at the end of the book, Sarah Felix Burns notes that Jackfish is "neither a true story nor an autobiography." This is an astute reminder that a tale such as Clemance-Marie's is emblematic of domestic abuse. 

Originally published in Herizons, Summer 2008, Vol. 22, No. 1. Reprinted with permission.www.herizons.ca

Copyright © Inanna Publications. Site development by In the Lost and Found & Nicole Chung.