Tilley, Jim. “Against the Wind”, Red Hen, 2019.
Six characters whose lives come together after three of them have a chance meeting are the relationships we meet in Jim Tilley’s elegantly written, “Against the Wind”. The six include an environmental lawyer who realizes that everything about his work has betrayed his core beliefs, a high school English teacher who asks her former high school love to take up her environmental cause, a teen transgender male who is raised by his grandparents and who struggles to excel in a world that is hostile to his kind of people, a French-Canadian political science professor who discovers that he has a choice between his cherished separatist cause and his marriage and family, an accomplished engineer is chronically unable to impress his more accomplished father enough to be named head of the international wind technology company his father founded and the Quebec separatist party’s Minister of Natural Resources, a divorcée, who is caught between her French-Canadian lover and an unexpected English-Canadian suitor.
We follow these characters as their lives intersect during one year. Ralph, the environmental lawyer, as at the center of the novel. Now, at the end of his career, he tries to overcome regrets from his youth, first, by rekindling a romance with his high school sweetheart and then finishing a canoe trip that ended in disaster. While Ralph’s story is the anchor, each character has space to become a fully formed character: Lynn, the high school girlfriend, Jules, her son, Jean-Pierre, her estranged husband, Monique, a Canadian politician, and Dieter, who has inflicted harm on others throughout his life. Tilley writes in detail and is sympathetic about his characters. We get to know each one as we see the ways in which the present is so shaped by the past. We sometimes forget that we are not only responsible to the world and to those around us but also to ourselves. The novel is both political and personal as it looks at gender, adultery, wind energy, business acquisitions but even more so it is about hope, love and loss.
Set in Canada and the U.S., the novel is told mostly from Ralph’s point of view, and looks at the contemporary issues of the environment and transgender parenting while at the same time reminding us that it is difficult to be a man in a culture that judges us harshly.
The personal, the professional, and the political are totally intertwined here and we recognize the characters as people we know and the situations as parts of our lives. This is an important novel about characters facing the ends of their professional lives and the approach of what is to come with age.