Toronto Book Award Nominee 'Six Metres of Pavement' leaves an impression.
Farzana Doctor’s Six Metres of Pavement is one of this year's Toronto Book Award nominees.
I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed Six Metres of Pavement. After all, the premise is heart-breaking in that uncomfortable sort of way: after forgetting his infant daughter in a Toronto parking garage one summer day, Ismail Boxwala is still broken nearly two decades later. His life has unravelled in ways we can imagine. He is a mostly functioning alcoholic, with an ex-wife that, understandably, never quite managed to make the marriage work after their daughter’s death.
What’s intriguing, of course, about a story that is built on such a sad set of conditions, is just how the characters find their way out. What’s even more intriguing is that the promise of redemption appears in mysterious ways – and often, the healing we seek out is, at best, complicated and incomplete.
Ismail is once advised that the only way to survive misfortune is to stay in motion. And, indeed, the characters in Six Metres, driven by unfortunate circumstances, are perpetually in motion. Ismail moves through his life in a perfunctory state. His young writing class peer, Fatima, bounces from one friend’s couch to another, as a result of being kicked out of her parents’ home for her non-traditional lifestyle. Ismail’s newly widowed neighbour, the charming and sensitive Celia, deals with her agonias while huddled away in her daughter’s home.
Farzana Doctor writes with a delicate touch. Her characters, all strongly written, are realistically flawed with authentic voices that make their relationships both believable and relatable. Even Ismail – someone I was initially wary of – grew into a character I found myself understanding and even rooting for. While this is a balanced story (Fatima and Celia’s narratives are offered thoughtfully), Ismail is truly the driving force here, even if he would be hesitant to be any sort of hero of any story.
It’s impossible to read Six Metres and be left untouched. Parents of young children will be left biting their lip because they have been in a situation where they just almost forget. College students will understand the complicated love and boundaries of their families. Older readers may recognize Celia’s unrelenting independent spirit in themselves.
And everyone in between? They’ll read about a set of perfectly imperfect human beings trying to make sense of circumstances both self-inflicted and uncontrolled. And, with Doctor’s last pages, they’ll be reminded that we are all in the process of healing from something or another.
The winner of this year’s Toronto Book Awards will be announced on Thursday, October 11.