Nikolski - Nicolas Dickner
Reading the first two chapters of this book, I couldn't help be struck by the contrast with the last book I read, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; in that one, a girl is overwhelmingly influenced by her mother growing up, to the point that her father (though always around) is barely mentioned; here, though, two boys never meet their father, but are dominated by thoughts of him -- one has a compass that points toward the father, the other (Noah), since the father was a sailor, finds a sturgeon on the road in the middle of Manitoba. The third character, Joyce, is missing her mother instead.

This is a novel delicately woven from absences and missed connections; even though the author engineers a number of outrageous coincidences, the three main characters, though close kin, never really meet. Noah and Joyce lived very close to each other for ten years and knew each other by sight at best. The narrator barely knows any more about Joyce in spite of their one night together. Noah sends letters to his nomadic mother at towns he thinks she might pass through, which are returned unclaimed; at one point he wonders if his mother really exists. Joyce seeks unsuccessfully for news of her mother and her relative Leslie Lynn Doucette. The Doucet family left Tete-a-la-Baleine and scattered into anonymity. They're not the only ones -- Noah's mother never visits her relatives when she passes near them. (Nonetheless, displacement doesn't necessarily mean the breakup of family -- Maelo's Dominican family stays together, but then, Maelo works very hard to make it so. The Doucets don't.)

Dickner weaves a number of other themes into the book, cultural displacement, the disposable nature of modern life (garbage is a big theme), and fish -- I'm not sure what role the fish play. It's a gently melancholy book, but not without some hope. For one thing, Noah works hard to stay with his son, even though the boy's mother isn't sure she wants him to. In the end, Noah is alone with the boy -- I hope that the mother will stay in touch. No more longing for lost parents, please!