September 2, 2009

The Braid - a novel in verse form

The Braid
by Helen Frost

Two Scottish sisters, Sarah and Jeannie, tell their stories in alternating narrative poems. Each sister - Jeannie, who accompanies their parents and younger siblings to Cape Breton and Sarah, who stays behind with her grandmother - carries a length of the other's hair braided with her own. The braid binds them together and reminds them of who they used to be.

Praise poems, alternating with the narrative poems, help to illuminate the novel's themes. In a note at the end, Helen Frost explains how the poems are braided together, often with the last line of one poem becoming the first line of the next, as in the following excerpt:

Holding an almost weightless warmth / (or chill) letters pass from one hand / to another, shifting borders / between the unknown and the known. / Such minute detail: a cricket / chirping by the dam at midnight; / a cracked blue plate. Someone sitting / at a table writing, absorbed in thought.

A table absorbs written thoughts / (slight indentations in its wood), / and holds within its sturdiness / echoes of the conversations / that go on around it: laughter, / mealtime chatter, words of comfort. / It's part of all the stories, like / the constant kettle on the stove.

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