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Category: Fiction
Publisher: Canada:Knopf 2021
Format: Hardcover, 560 pgs.
On Sale Date: September 21, 2021

Book Description
The Mystery of Right and Wrong

A masterwork from one of the country's most critically acclaimed and beloved writers that is both compulsively readable and heartstopping in the vital truth it reveals. Unfolding them in a novel that grapples with sexual abuse, male violence and madness, Wayne Johnston reveals haunting family secrets he's kept for more than 30 years.

Wade Jackson, a young man from a Newfoundland outport, wants to be a writer. In the university library in St. John's, where he goes every day to absorb the great books of the world, he encounters the fascinating, South African-born Rachel van Hout, and soon they are lovers.

Rachel is the youngest of four van Hout daughters. Her Dutch-born father, Hans, lived in Amsterdam during WWII, and says he was in the Dutch resistance. After the war, he emigrated to South Africa, where he met his wife, Myra, had his daughters and worked as an accounting professor at the University of Cape Town. Something happened, though, that caused him to uproot his family and move them all, unhappily, to Newfoundland.

Wade soon discovers that the beautiful van Hout daughters are each in their own way a wounded soul. The oldest, Gloria, is a hypersexual exhibitionist who, by the age of twenty-eight, has been married five times. Carmen is addicted to every drug her Afrikaner drug-pusher husband, Fritz, can lay his hands on. Bethany, aka Deathany, the most sardonic and self-deprecating of the sisters, is fighting a losing battle with anorexia. And then there is Rachel, who reads The Diary of Anne Frank obsessively, and diarizes her days in a secret language of her own invention, writing to the point of breakdown and beyond.

As the truth works its way inevitably to the surface, Wade learns that nothing in the world of the van Houts is what it seems, and that Rachel's obsession with Anne Frank has deeper and more disturbing roots than he could ever have imagined.

Wayne Johnston takes beautiful risks here, bringing the abuser, Hans, to life largely through the verses of the ballad Hans composes to indoctrinate his little girls. Confronting the central mystery of his own and Rachel's lives, Wayne has transfigured the "material," creating a tour-de-force that pulls the reader toward a conclusion both inevitable and impossible to foresee.

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Copyright 2006 Wayne Johnston