With her new novel, Montreal-born writer Lauren B. Davis, who currently lives in Princeton, New Jersey, has created a powerful, harrowing and deeply unsettling work. It’s the sort of novel that keeps you reading even as your skin crawls and your blood pressure mounts.
The story centers on the town of Gideon, a pious, God-fearing community seething with the dark underbelly common to all such towns. The neighbouring mountain is home to the Erskine clan, a family with a long history of child abuse, neglect, violence, and drug-dealing. The Erskines’ sins are known among the residents of Gideon, but the family is mostly left alone, ostracized and distanced. Twenty-one-year-old Albert Erskine befriends 15-year-old Bobby Evans, the eldest child of Tom and Patty, whose marriage is crumbling. Bobby’s younger sister, Ivy, persecuted and bullied at school, takes refuge with Dorothy Carlisle, who runs an antique store. It is the nature of small communities (and novels) that the characters’ lives and stories overlap and intersect, shaping and being shaped by one another.
From its brutal opening—describing a humiliation Albert endures when he is thought to be snooping on some older family members who are getting into the meth business—Our Daily Bread proceeds like a noose gradually tightening: something terrible is going to happen, and the reader is kept rapt, wondering what the precipitating incident will be. Davis drew inspiration for Our Daily Bread from the story of Nova Scotia’s Goler clan—she acknowledges David Cruise and Alison Griffiths’ On South Mountain, which documents the case and the community, as source material—and she uses this background to create a stark, beautiful, sad, and frankly terrifying novel.
Our Daily Bread is finely crafted, with careful attention to characterization, style, and pacing. It succeeds on every level, and will leave readers, much like the book’s characters, devastated and clawing toward the light.