Like many readers, I have among my favourites a number of authors whose new works I am certain to enjoy. No concerns about the subject—their writing is so good that I am confident that I will like each new book.
It was with that thought that I took delivery last week of A Bright and Steady Flame, Luanne Armstrong’s “Story of an Enduring Friendship,” as her 21st book is subtitled.
I had been anticipating this book for months, having chatted with Armstrong about it in the summer. What a great theme, I thought—a decades-long friendship that has endured through all the changes that Armstrong and Sam Moore have gone through since meeting as mothers living in poverty.
Armstrong has written before about her escape from an abusive marriage and raising her four children on a Kootenay Lake farm, where she still resides. But A Bright and Steady Flame goes into greater detail about those early adult years. I found it fascinating to read Armstrong’s take on the shifts of culture along the East Shore that reflected what was happening across the continent. “Community-altering movements” that included “back-to-the-landers, draft dodgers, hippies, drugs, plus political movements for peace, feminism, and equality.”
Long-time area residents will get a kick out of seeing familiar names, and to be transported back to those years of turmoil and experiment against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and hippie movement.
I especially enjoyed reminisces of the conversations between Moore and Armstrong, which ranged from despairing analyses of their poverty to issues from the news. Anyone with a similarly close long-term friendship will smile at the thought of two brilliant women locking horns over politics, culture, science and endless other opportunities to disagree.
While I doubt it was intentional, Armstrong’s non-fiction works that focus on rural life on Kootenay Lake over a seven-decade span serve collectively as an intimate history of an area that in some ways has pulled her back from greater professional success. Her early years as a student in Sirdar’s one-room school did little to prepare her for life in a larger world, and it took longer than it should have for her to find the confidence to see herself as a writer, and longer still to find any measure of financial security.
I find it interesting, and inspiring, that Armstrong’s writing doesn’t dwell on the “what ifs” of life, and that she appreciates that her struggles have given her life experiences and wisdom that many of us who grew up in relative comfort will never truly understand.
With her masterful approach to writing her memoirs, Armstrong does not come across as a victim, other than of circumstance. She is brutally honest, but never complaining, qualities that draw me to her as a human as well as a writer.
Armstrong’s deep and moving friendship with Moore is not surprising, given the effort she has made throughout her life to nurture a remarkable social circle. Few people I know have such a profound connection to the land on which they were raised, and that she is able to chronicle so beautifully the joy and depression she has experienced on her journey is a reflection of a woman with a great gift for writing, and an internal drive to hone her craft to such a high level.
In A Bright and Steady Flame, we have been given a gift that is at once an easy read and a work of depth, intellect, compassion and razor-sharp observation. It is a book that makes me want to go into my library and re-read some of Armstrong’s earlier works, if for no other reason than the quality of writing.
The public is invited to a book launch this Saturday, October 27 from 2-4 pm at the Creston Public Library.
“Book reading and signing. Snacks and cake. Lots of time for stories and questions,” Armstrong says.