Original Publication Date: 2002, previously published in electronic format, 2001.
A technical writer moves to a cottage in the woods near a small Ontario town. She quickly finds herself embroiled in a local murder, a decades-old mystery, and an apparent supernatural presence.
This time she didn’t make it into the woods. She was barely out of the door before the heaving in her stomach forced her over the porch rail, spewing the remains of breakfast onto the piles of yellow and red leaves blown up against the walls of the cabin. She remained bent over the rail gasping for breath… until she heard the screen door creak open. She wiped her mouth on her shirtsleeve, took one deep breath and turned to face her mother.
The narrator encounters both a present-day murder and a past mystery, revealed to her in dreams. The novel’s better writing appears in these segments. They feature strong description and a believable, if somewhat predictable, villain. I felt more for the heroine of these flashback segments than I did for anyone else in the main plot, and genuinely interested in the outcome of the plot. Unfortunately, this storyline makes up too little of the book.
I hope Delany’s more recent and future books develop the talent these too-brief segments show.
Ever since that stupid old man got his stupid old self knocked off near here the pigs have been creeping around the woods night after night. Can’t barely take a step out of place anymore or they’ll be on to you. It’s getting pretty hard to score around here, I’ll tell you (165)
The Turkey City Lexicon provides several suggestions from writers, to writers, especially writers of genre fiction. Much of it repeats standard suggestions from guides for writers. Obviously, its pronouncements must be taken as advice, not edicts, but Whiteout demonstrates Turkey City’s wisdom, and Delany would have done well to have read through the document before writing her final draft. The main story often tells what she has already shown, or could have shown, and the constant commentary on the obvious becomes intrusive and distracting. At times, it’s also unbelievable; a person facing gunfire, to cite one example, does not stop to editorialize until the danger has passed.
The book also demonstrates the Lexicon’s point about the “Said Bookism.” Some substitutions for “said” work, but in this book, everything is “blurted,” “hissed,” “moaned,” “sneered,” “snorted,” or “yipped.” Really, “said” and “asked” would work far better, most of the time.
Finally, the narrator’s relationship to a rebellious teenager, Tiffany, becomes central to the novel. Many aspects of their friendship work, and I could accept the girl’s inconsistent behavior as typical of a certain type of person her age. However, much of the dialogue attributed to the young quasi-Goth and her friends lacks credibility. Try to imagine any tough teen boy in the last, say, fifty years saying to the local wannabe tough girls, “Are we going to go or are you chicks going to stand there clucking like a pack of hens all night?” (166)
Story: 3/6. The stories have potential; I was really hoping more would develop to connect the plots set in the past and present. The solution to the mystery seems forced, and the ending, rushed.
Imagery: 5/6. Delany’s strength lies in her descriptions, especially of the rural Ontario country.
Emotional Response: 3/6. The story-within-the-story provokes an emotional response; the main plot does not feel consistently real enough to work. Consequently, I had a decidedly mixed reaction to the book.
Overall Score: 3/6.
In total, Whiteout receives 23/42
Delany has gone on since Whiteout to publish two other novels. I didn’t like this one very much, but it suggests the potential for much better work. If you’re interested in the mystery genre, Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory might be worth checking out.