The Cure for Death by Lightning

The Cure for Death by Lightning

A Novel

Paperback - 1997
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"The cure for death by lightning was handwritten in thick, messy blue ink in my mother's scrapbook, under the recipe for my father's favourite oatcakes: Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more. "

So begins Gail Anderson-Dargatz's extraordinary first novel, a seductive and thrilling book that captures the heart and imagination, as filled with the magic and mystery of life as it is with its lurking evils and gut-wrenching hardships. The Cure for Death by Lightning sold more than a staggering 100,000 copies in Canada alone and became a bestseller in Great Britain, later to be published in the United States and Europe. It was nominated for the Giller Prize, the richest fiction prize in Canada, and received a Betty Trask Award in the U.K.

The Cure for Death by Lightning takes place in the poor, isolated farming community of Turtle Valley, British Columbia, in the shadow of the Second World War. The fifteenth summer of Beth Weeks's life is full of strange happenings: a classmate is mauled to death; children go missing on the nearby reserve; an unseen predator pursues Beth. She is surrounded by unusual characters, including Nora, the sensual half-Native girl whose friendship provides refuge; Filthy Billy, the hired hand with Tourette's Syndrome; and Nora's mother, who has a man's voice and an extra little finger. Then there's the darkness within her own family: her domineering, shell-shocked father has fits of madness, and her mother frequently talks to the dead. Beth, meanwhile, must wrestle with her newfound sexuality in a harsh world where nylons, perfume and affection have no place. Then, in a violent storm, she is struck by lightning in her arm, and nothing is quite the same again. She decides to explore the dangers of the bush.

Beth is a strong, honest, and compassionate heroine, bringing hope and joy into an environment that is often cruel. The character of Beth's haunted mother infuses the book with life by means of her scrapbook of recipes scattered throughout, with luscious descriptions of food, gardening, and remedies, both practical and bizarre. Seen through Beth's eyes, the West Coast landscape is full of beauty and mysteries, with its forests and rivers, and its rich native culture.

The Globe and Mail commented that The Cure for Death by Lightning was "Canadian to the core," with hints of Susannah Moodie and Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Anderson-Dargatz's vision of rural life has drawn comparisons with William Faulkner and John Steinbeck. A magic realism reminiscent of Latin American literature is also present, as flowers rain from the sky, and men turn into animals. Yet the style of The Cure for Death by Lightning , which the Boston Globe called "Pacific Northwest Gothic," is wholly original. Launched in a year with more than the usual number of excellent first novels (1996 was also the year of Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald and Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels), this book with its assured voice heralds a worthy successor to Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro.
Publisher: Toronto, Ont. : Vintage Canada, 1997, c1996.
Edition: First Vintage Canada edition
ISBN: 9780394281803
Characteristics: 294 pages ;,21 cm.


From the critics

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Jul 03, 2017

With some mysterious mythological elements The Cure for Lightning was an engaging page turner. There was definetly a pervasive sexual undertone and I think some balancing was attempted with the charming recipies and remedies found throughout the book.

Jun 28, 2016

The only reason I finished this book (skim-reading, at that) was because I felt that would somehow pay homage to an effort to include First Nations culture in a plot. I grimaced many times during this book with the prevalence of sexual abuse.

Aug 03, 2015

This book is highly literate and certainly sympathetic in its portrayal of life in rural Canada in the 1940s and the people who lived there. Some of it is (intentionally) far-fetched but charmingly so.

Feb 01, 2014

I read this novel in high school as an assigned reading, and personally found the story disturbing. I would not recommend it to a young audience, and it is not a light read

Apr 25, 2012

Another magical realism by author of Recipe for Bees. Really good reviews in catalogue section.

Dec 09, 2011

I re-read this novel as part of my current quest to discover some new offerings to place on my grade 11 independent study reading list next semester. While I won't be adding it to their list (and I'll explain why momentarily), it was every bit as enjoyable the second time around. The novel unfolds on a family farm in the remote Turtle Valley, BC, in the 1940's. The narrator is 15-year-old Beth Weeks, whose personal coming-of-age struggles are juxtaposed against several bizarre and frightening occurrences in her community: the grisly death of her classmate, which is dubiously blamed on a bear; the appearance of strange portents in the natural world, which are shrugged off by all witnesses; and the increasingly erratic and violent behaviour among the men in the community, including Beth's father. His unpredictable moods (blamed on a head injury he suffered during the Great War)leave the entire family - including the two hired hands - walking on eggshells daily. It soon becomes clear to the reader (with the help of some wonderful aboriginal characters who live on the nearby reservation) that what is plaguing the community is not human: the Trickster, Coyote has returned to Turtle Valley and is wreaking havoc in the community. How can he be stopped, when almost everyone - whites and aboriginals - have forgotten the old ways and no longer believe in 'ghost stories'? I absolutely loved Gail Anderson-Dargatz's rich writing style - just turn to page 158 to see how powerful her figurative language can be. (I was lucky enough to hear the author read this passage aloud a few years ago - it left most of the women in the audience quite flushed!) I also loved that this was a story about women's strength and resilience, set in a time period when women had very little power. Finally, I was delighted by the magical realism within the book (I was reminded of Esquivel's 'Like Water for Chocolate'). Before recommending the book to any of my students, however, I'd warn them of the often harsh circumstances which Beth - being a farm girl - sometimes has to witness in this book. The cycle of life and death on the Weeks farm is often 'red in tooth and claw' and there were several animal deaths in the first third of the novel which could upset a naive reader. For this reason, I will highly recommend it to any person who would like to read it individually, but would not offer it as a class novel. That being said, I am putting myself on the waiting list for Anderson-Dargatz's 'Recipe for Bees' and 'Turtle Island' - I can't wait to read more of her work!

Aug 17, 2009

The atmosphere of real and imagined menace (but, as it turns out, justifiably imagined), and the verging on gothic harshness of rural and aboriginal life during the Second World War makes parts of The Cure for Death by Lightning almost unbearable to read in the opening chapters. But then the spirit and resilience of 15-year-old Beth Weeks, and her eye for hopeful and redemptive signs in the people, the animals and the world around her win you over, and have you turning the pages with no fear, and much optimism that she will forge a life, thrive and be loved in the hardscrabble setting in which she chooses to remain. Populated with original and captivating characters and an undercurrent of mystery and mysticism that never veers into the utterly unbelievable, this is an unforgettable book.

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Jul 03, 2017

blairl thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Feb 01, 2014

PamelaMemmott thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


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Aug 18, 2009

The cure for death by lightning was handwritten in thick, messy blue ink in my mother’s scrapbook, under the recipe for my father’s favourite oatcakes: Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more.


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