Families can be a lot. Even at the best of times, they can be a constant source of drama. And the Montgomery kids demonstrate an innate talent for it. Take Charlie, for example. Mama’s favorite, Charlie is a troubled, treacherous kid tortured by his faith. His eldest brother Jeffrey is a successful school athlete who throws away his promising sports career, seemingly for no reason. Zack, the youngest, hero-worships Jeffrey until his brother betrays his trust. Finally, there’s Alice – the precocious narrator of the novel. She may be the most level-headed of all the Montgomery children. But, frankly, that doesn’t say much. Adults in the family have a similarly complex relationship. Madeline – the mother – is beautiful, fragile, and distant. Her adopted sister Isabel is the opposite: she is loud, brash, and mean. And yet, when Maddy’s husband dies, it is Bel who helps take care of the children. Her reasons may not be altruistic.
OUTSIDE THE BIG OAK DOORS is a warm, poignant, and humorous story about two generations of the same family living together in south Calgary. Author Michelle Tocher accomplishes a stellar job depicting the everyday joys and pains of four siblings growing up in a house that may be too small for them. Tocher weaves a wondrous, complex tapestry of love, hate, resentment, and nostalgia. In its center is a mystery: Jonathan Jacob Montgomery, a husband and a father who died young of a heart attack. Alice explores her childhood memories to understand this man she barely knew. The structure of the novel reflects her recollections and individual chapters function as short stories and are presented in non-linear fashion (this may sound confusing, but it isn’t). By the end of the novel, pieces of the Montgomery family puzzle all fall into place, providing readers with a satisfying conclusion. Tocher paints a vivid and rich portrait of her characters. As the Montgomery/Duval family faces challenges from within and without, there are joys and betrayals, tears and laughter. After all, nobody can heal you — or hurt you — quite like your own family.
Funny and heartfelt, Michelle Tocher’s OUTSIDE THE BIG OAK DOORS may be short, but this rich, warm, and deeply humane novel will linger in reader’s minds long after they finish it.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader