Martha Brooks. Gary Garrison
This summer, at the age of 74, novelist Martha Brooks is giving birth to a new baby in a home she shares with Jonathan Hooton across the street from Giovanni Caboto Park. She calls it The Youngest Widow in Town, a novel born of Martha’s grief in losing her first husband to cancer in 2012 and finding new life with Jonathan where they can be “just a couple of crazy kids doing what we do, not wanting to retire.”
Martha is a multi-talented artist whose fiction has moved audiences around the world. _True Confessions of a Heartless Gir_l won the Governor General’s Award in 2002, and her seven other novels, two short story collections, three plays, and memoir have won numerous awards too. “A jazz singer with a sultry soulful style,” Martha has performed across Canada, in Reykjavik and Berlin and released three CDs, one of which won the 2001 Prairie Music Award for Outstanding Jazz Album of the Year.
The Youngest Widow in Town is set on the Canadian prairies in 1927. World War I is over less than ten years, survivors of the carnage struggle everywhere with unhealed trauma, and the dead live on in the memories of the living. For many, like Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who often conferred with his dead mother, the dead are very much alive as spirits. Marguerite, the narrator, is 19 years old, and her husband has died in a farming accident.
The novel is, Martha says, “an exploration of the lands of the living and the dead and how those two intersect.” Creating it “has been to a large degree the product of my transformation and transcendence of going through unstoppable sorrow, having lost my husband, Brian.” In her memoir, Letters to Brian, she worked through the first year of grief after his death, when “he was moving in my life and helping me rejoin the land of the living.”
“Life can lunge at us with something utterly terrible we didn’t expect and can drop upon us incredible blessings. That miracle of unexpected connections has been my path of understanding for most of my writing life,” she says. “What I do with all my novels is present the difficulties of simply loving and how worthwhile it is.”
Her creative process, she says, involves putting herself in a sacred space and waiting for things to emerge. When she took a course on family constellations, which is a big part of Jonathan’s work in healing trauma, she was thrilled to discover how similar both processes are. She sums up the process simply: “Don’t push the river!”
Martha says she loves living in her vintage home in McCauley because of the beautiful mosaic of people and cultures, the different accents, the Africans next door, the Salvadorans on the other side, Little Italy, Chinatown. “But the truth is, if Jonathan weren’t here, I’d be back in Manitoba. Jonathan,” she says, “is my home.”