“Exercising demons makes ‘em stronger, dummy.”
Deftly told, Crow by Amy Spurway is a rumination on illness, tragedy, belonging, and family. Its expertly employed humor serves both as a coping mechanism for its characters and as necessary comic relief in what would otherwise be a wholly heart-wrenching story. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Stacey (Crow) Fortune has just left her polished big city life and moved back in with her mother in rural Nova Scotia. Just ten pages in, Crow reveals that she is dying. Diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors and having recently gone through a messy break-up, Crow reluctantly returns to the life she so desperately wanted to leave behind. So as Crow opens, our titular character is back home in Cape Breton where everyone knows everyone else’s dirt—and there’s a lot of dirt—and Stacey Fortune, the marketing professional, doesn’t exist, Crow Fortune, of the cursed Fortune family, does.
But there’s a lot more happening in Crow than our narrator lets on in those opening pages. Crow deals with issues of class, poverty, mental health, addictions, sexual abuse, intergenerational trauma, and so much more. Yet in the face of all that darkness this book is laugh-out-loud funny. It also takes some interesting turns.
While home, Crow is determined to unearth the truth about the supposed curse that haunts her family. Through this investigation, Spurway introduces an unexpected supernatural element to the book—an element that explores belief more widely. Crow is also determined to shake things up before finding herself six feet under. Along the way, she is confronted by all the things she left behind, and the reader gets to meet a cast of unforgettable characters— “lunatics and criminals” by Crow’s own assessment.
There were several moments where Crow could have descended into sickly sweetness, yet it never did. And I love it for that. It leads the reader toward an expected path only to take an entirely different direction. The characters never lose their edge, their Cape Breton charm.
Crow Fortune exudes attitude. She calls out “all the serenity-stuffed blissers” that push positive thinking and easily digestible, social-media-shareable therapy like “just let it go,” because, come on, nobody ever “just lets it go.” Even in her last moments, she admits that her approaching death never turned her “into some peace-pissing, bliss-barfing, gratitude-grabbing beacon of spiritual greatness.” She pities that last part. I don’t.
In Crow, Spurway has created real, imperfect people. Behind their rough exteriors, these characters each have an endearing softness—the kind of softness that’ll kick your ass out of bed every morning because you that’s what you need. The moments of tenderness between them are subtle and impactful.
Joel Thomas Hynes calls Crow “as empowering and comic as it is unsettling and disarming,” and he’s right. Amy Spurway is a powerful and skilled writer. If Crow is her debut offering, I can’t wait to see what she does next.
By Amy Spurway
305 pages. 2019
About Samantha Fitzapatrick
Samantha Fitzpatrick is a writer and marketing professional based in St. John’s, NL (Canada). Her work has appeared in Resistance, Paragon, Paper Mill Press, and online on The Malahat Review, The Independent NL, Secret East, and Not Your Boys Club.