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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Scent of the Queengrass: A Requiem in Seven Parts by Trevor Siegel is a literary tale of one man’s journey through life from early childhood right through to his death. William Fennyman was born in rural North Dakota in 1908. As a youngster, the seminal event in his young life occurred when he waved his father goodbye as he went to serve in the trenches in WWI, never to return. William, his mother, and William’s older brother are forced to accept his uncle’s offer of a roof over their heads in order to survive, but Uncle George is a drunken, violent man who regularly beats all three of them for even minor transgressions. After one particularly violent episode, in which William’s older brother Phillip is badly injured, William is sent away to boarding school. What should be blessing results in constant bullying, loneliness, and isolation, turning William in on himself. He becomes obsessed with living in the present, forgetting the past, and ignoring the future. As he grows up and becomes a parent and then a grandparent, William’s perception of life and relationships is always shaped and molded by the terrible traumas he suffered as a child and adolescent.
The Scent of the Queengrass is a deeply moving tragedy and a reminder of the fragility of life and the hand we are dealt in it. In William, author Trevor Siegel has created a character that is deeply scarred by his upbringing, attempting to consign the past to a locked box he will never open again. The tragedy this brings to his own life, as he shuts out his mother and his older brother, is jarring and frightening. The language and dialogue throughout the narrative are compelling and beautiful. I particularly loved the way William grasped the lesson taught to him by his English teacher, the most important lesson he would learn in life. This “dust to dust” mantra became the watchword of his life from that point on, and this was poignantly displayed in the way William rejected contact with his family once he moved into adulthood. I also appreciated that the most constant image of “home” was not an experience per se, but a smell. No matter how hard he tried to shut the past away and consign it to the wastebin of history, it was always the smell of the queengrass field - and the time spent in the garden next to the field with Miss Peppadilla - that would draw him back to his past. This is a thoughtful read that challenges one’s perceptions of time and purpose and I can definitely recommend it.