There are many forms of isolation, and Ellie is becoming an expert on them: unloved and ignored as a child in Vienna, up against cultural barriers in Canada, holed up in a cabin in the north. What are the effects of isolation on the brain? Is it loneliness and boredom that makes Ellie take risks and say yes to Vera, her glamorous but deeply disturbed friend? Vera has been abused as a child and is now putting her trust in a charlatan healer. Together they entangle Ellie in a murderous game of fantasy and revenge. Marooned on the shores of a frozen lake, Ellie must make her way out of the Canadian bush and the wilderness of her own soul. It is a journey through hostile territory— neglect, deceit, confusion, betrayal— but Ellie is a fighter. All she needs to survive is a soulmate. Don’t we all?
“From the chill of postwar Berlin to Ontario’s icy north, all is not as it seems in Erika Rummel’s fast-moving novel, where the dance of reality and role-play tease and intrigue the reader. It’s a book where sex, mayhem, and family secrets combine to make the pages turn almost by themselves.”
—Carole Giangrande, author of Midsummer and Here Comes the Dreamer
“Take a few minutes from your busy day and find a quiet place to read Erika Rummel’s The Effects of Isolation on the Brain. You won’t regret it.”
—Lee Gowan, author of The Last Cowboy
I’m holed up here in the “Near North” — tourist speak for a place that’s unbearable for nine months out of twelve. Right now, the cold is stinging my nostrils and bating my breath. In the spring, the blackflies — but never mind the blackflies, I’ll be gone by then. It’s all arranged. Vera will pick me up and take me across the lake. “Don’t worry, Ellie,” she said. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
Vera’s car will be waiting at the marina. We’ll drive away, through blighted mining towns, past houses with car wrecks in the driveway and old beer fridges on the porch, speeding up as we reach the open highway, going past tar-papered shacks and wretched diners. No time for regrets until we reach the airfield at Timmins and say good-bye. It’ll be quick. They don’t ask a lot of questions in Timmins. It’s bush pilot country. Vera said she’d pick me up, but I’m still here. Maybe she has changed her mind and doesn’t want me to get away. Maybe she’s praying for a snowstorm to take out the power lines, hoping I’ll freeze to death. I depend on baseboard heaters to keep me warm. There’s a fieldstone fireplace as well, but it hasn’t been used “in donkeys’ years,” Vera said. The flue is plugged with soot. “Don’t try to light a fire, Ellie,” she said. “You’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning.”
It’s the middle of November, and I’m bored out of my mind. The ground is covered with an inch of snow. The lake has a glassy-looking crust of ice. It’s no longer navigable. No getting away by boat now. The cottagers have gone home. They’ve switched off the power, drained the toilets, pulled up the dry docks, and put their boats into storage. I’m cut off from the rest of the world unless I want to walk out to Logham, “home to the world’s largest white-tailed deer herd” according to the tourist brochure. It would mean slogging through the bush for thirty miles. Into the arms of the waiting cops.
No way. I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to run the risk. The bush in back of the cabin is impenetrable, a tangled mess of underbrush, a cat’s cradle of rotten tree trunks and bogs where the beavers have been at work. A short month ago it smelled musky, and a gamy heat rose from the ground. Now the cold has dried up every scent. My hiking boots, it turns out, aren’t really water-proof, and the rubber boots aren’t warm enough, even if I wear two pairs of socks. So I don’t go outside much. I stay in the cabin and think about this country, Canada, but nothing profound like: How did I end up here? What is the essential national characteristic of Canadians? No, more like: why can’t they come up with decent lyrics for their national anthem? The same words over and over. We stand on guard for thee. We stand on guard for thee. We stand on guard for thee. Just thinking about that bloody anthem makes me die of boredom.