The Little Shadows, Marina Endicott
Anchor Canada, 526 pages
When Aurora Avery was sixteen, she suddenly found herself in charge of her sisters. Their father and baby brother had died, leaving their mother too distraught to cope. Before her marriage, their mother had worked in vaudeville, and now that she and the girls were turned out of the schoolmaster’s cottage, she returned with her girls to the dodgy and precarious world she had left behind. It was familiar to her, and it was possible for the girls to sing and dance their way to a decent living; there weren’t many better options on the Prairies in 1912. So Aurora, Clover and Bella would take to the stage, and Aurora, being the eldest and most sensible, would hold the purse strings.
Rich with atmosphere, The Little Shadows follows Aurora, Clover and Bella as they make their way in the variety and vaudeville theatre circuit. Together, without any real help from their distracted mother, they contend with larger than life personalities, financial crises, seductions, betrayals, and the challenge to continually delight and entertain. Aurora feels most keenly the necessity to provide for her family, so she accepts a marriage proposal from a theatre manager more than twice her age – a solution which seems practical enough until he abandons her in early pregnancy. Clover falls in love with a gifted, idealistic illusionist who does not plan to stay in theatre, and she must choose where her loyalties lie. And Bella, whose one true love is the theatre itself, is required to craft a unique moral code in order to survive.
The Little Shadows is a captivating, thoroughly engrossing novel that handles Dickensian themes with a sparse, Prairie sensibility. Endicott comes from a theatre background, and her love for this world sings on every page.