Edith Forbes in Nowle’s Passing writes of the aftermath of a father’s (Vernon) death when his children return home in rural Vermont for the funeral. The story is told through the eyes of Vincie, the daughter and the eldest of three children. After Vincie goes to the police seeking their help in determining if Vernon in fact killed himself or was murdered, a lifetime of hidden fears and anxieties are brought to the surface. Five people are in the net of suspicion—Vincie and her siblings, her husband, Gifford, and her sister-in-law, Georgeanne. As the focus narrows down to her brothers, she finds what it means to live in her father’s shoes.
His shoes are not of a warm caring love, but shoes filled with taciturnity. Vernon is solemn farmer committed to making his life count, to raise his children by setting an example of firm stoic pride that is ever mindful of his wee place in the world. Never is there enough; there is always one more bill, one more piece of equipment needing repair or replacement, one more task or chore to be done.
These shoes are the ones George Seielstad in Dawn of the Anthropocene writes that society needs to learn how to wear. Vernon’s pride is his cows and other animals that live on the farm. He nurtures them and cares for them, even more than his own children, it is thought. Vernon grieves for every loss – every plant, bug, or animal. Humankind, to Vernon’s thinking, is not the end all, be all. He seeks to be the wise steward, caretaker, of what he has been given, and to instill this in his children. In the end, though he is human—with all of its weaknesses in times. When the depths of despair and sorrow hit, he acts out of character, toward mankind’s best friends, his dogs.
Nowle’s Passing is not an easy book to read in terms of the subject matter. Forbes though is a gifted writer and the novel was hauntingly hard to put down. She describes Vermont as though she knows it, has lived there. I could feel the cold, the wet, and the sunshine as I read.
In the end, Vincie learns how to accept herself, to find the path that will lead to fulfillment and purpose, as her father for so long wished. She also finds the peace that is spoken about in Philippians 4:7, the peace that passes all understanding. It gives her the ability to love the brother that drove their father to his death. A wise judge recently told a jury that they do not sit in judgment of their fellow man; they judge only conduct. For a parent, it means you remain committed to the errant child, loving him or her even as you punish their conduct. It is this that Vincie acquires.