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Michael Melgaard Reviews H. Nigel Thomas’ “No Safeguards”

H. Nigel ThomasIn a recent review for the Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Michael Melgaard calls No Safeguards by H. Nigel Thomas a book that “deals with some big issues – religion, abuse, sexuality – but it is first and foremost a family story”.

Melgaard’s review points out the narrative complexity of Thomas’ book, which weaves together the various stories of one family in a compelling and captivating way. Referring to Tolstoy’s statement “that families that are unhappy are all unhappy in their own way”, Melgaard argues that “there is truth to that, of course, but family unhappiness springs from the same sources – miscommunications, resentment, and the layers of guilt and blame that come with them. A grievance can be held a lifetime, some small slight from childhood, forgotten by the one who delivered it, can be held on by the victim and grow into a thing that defines them. H Nigel Thomas captures the intricate, multi-layered family relationship with sensitivity and a deep, honest understanding”.

Thomas’ book focuses on the relationship between two boys, Paul and Jay, who are initially left with their grandmother Ma Kirton when their mother flees to Canada from an abusive relationship. The two boys differ significantly, “Jay has been on the receiving end of his father’s brutality for most of his life…But Paul, too young to know what he was spared, blossoms in his new home…he has become known as Ma Kirton’s genius, a precocious boy whose academic successes makes him a minor local celebrity”.

The story expands as Paul and Jay reunite with their mother in Canada. These changes cause Paul to fall “deeper and deeper into trouble, beat down by the changes, by hormones, and by the North American school system” as Jay “attends college and does what can to keep the peace”. Eventually, these changes become part of a family conflict that splits the brothers, who reunite only after a family emergency. As Melgaard points out, “No Safeguards is meant to be the first book in a trilogy, and the end of it feels like a beginning. It is a testament to H. Nigel Thomas’s storytelling that the reader is left wanting to see where the brothers will go next”.

Nigel Thomas was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and has been living in Montreal since 1986. He has written three other novels, Spirits in the Dark, Behind the Face of Winter, and Return to Arcadia, along with three collections of short stories, How Loud Can the Village Cock Crow, Lives: Whole and Otherwise (translated into French as Des vies cassées), and When the Bottom Falls Out and Other Stories. He has also written a collection of poems, Moving through Darkness, and two scholarly texts.

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