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Quoted: Light on a Part of the Field
Kevin Holowack’s debut novel Light on a Part of the Field (NeWest Press) considers artistic ambition, mental illness, and familial relationships against the backdrop of the 1960s and 1970s in BC and Alberta.
Below, Kevin Holowack sheds light on the novel’s title and the story’s intertextual relationship with the Book of Ruth.
The title of Light on a Part of the Field comes from Ruth 2:3, which describes the widow Ruth entering the fields after following her mother-in-law Naomi from Moab over the Jordan River to Bethlehem. The title came to mind during the editing process and mostly refers to the process of writing. When faced with the openness of a blank page, it’s easy to sympathize with Ruth gleaning the unfamiliar fields, filled with uncertainty, nagged by loss, with no particular place to be and no one to meet. Occasionally, she might pause to watch a reaper securing a bushel. For quite some time, she might think only of death. Or water. She might pay attention as the sunrise rushes through olive leaves. By chance, she might find herself on land belonging to Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law Elimelech, and meet him between rows of barley. Or perhaps it is corn.
Light on a Part of the Field has an intertextual relationship with the Book of Ruth, which is about alienation, the importance of relationships, and, for some, the finer details of God’s plan. Light on a Part of the Field replaced a working title that was too similar to the title of a work by W. Somerset Maugham, but which tied the allusion more closely to Keats, whose stormy presence felt closer in my twenties. The novel follows the lives of the Windsor family in the 1960s and 1970s as they move from Victoria to a secluded farmhouse near Salmon Arm and later become dispersed across North America. One of the characters reads the Book of Ruth shortly after her daughter runs away from home and her husband goes missing. She reads it passively, finds it boring, and is mostly trying to stay distracted, but the narrative arc of Ruth comes to reflect her own journey over the course of the novel from estrangement to connection.
Ruth is eventually instructed by Naomi to lay at Boaz’s feet while he is asleep on the threshing floor, a rite that indicated a need for protection and a desire for marriage. In Light on a Part of the Field, none of the characters meet Boaz, but some are on a fateful quest for redemption, some must leave home to find a sense of permanence, and some must break away from loved ones in order to form secure relationships. One character, a landscape painter, struggles to strike a balance in her work between light and shadow, reflecting her struggle to reconcile divisions in her family and herself. Another character runs away with a hitchhiking stranger to Edmonton, where she uncovers an important sense of community. There are two meanings to “light on a part of the field.” In Ruth 2:3, it refers to Ruth arriving in Boaz’s part of the field by happenstance, unexpectedly, with no particular intention. Out of context, the words also form an image, which I appreciate because it feels both vague and vivid, arresting and ambiguous, close and distant—much like Light on a Part of the Field after years of changes.
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Kevin Holowack is a writer from Edmonton who has his M.A. in English from the University of Alberta. He has lived in various places across Canada and Europe. His work has been published in Glass Buffalo and Lemon Hound.