Reflections in a Farmhouse Window

10 July 2024

Reflections in a Farmhouse Window: A Prairie Memoir 
by Marilyn Frey
Published by Marilyn Frey
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 9780981380346

One of the many joys of reading memoir is learning you share certain places, people or experiences with an author. I didn’t anticipate crossovers between my life and Saskatchewan writer Marilyn Frey’s, but I discovered multiple intersections while reading her candid, thought-provoking and beautifully-written book, Reflections in a Farmhouse Window: A Prairie Memoir. Like Frey, I’ve also lived in Middle Lake, Meadow Lake and Saskatoon, but overlapping communities aside, I really connected emotionally to the sixty stories this talented writer shares about her rural upbringing, the joys and trials of family life, weathering major transitions, and knowing when it’s time to take a few moments for oneself.

After a long career in banking—from teller beginnings to becoming a District Manager who frequently travelled—Frey now has the time to turn her attention to her passion for writing, and I’m so glad she does. It’s rare to read a first-time, self-published writer’s book that sings the way this one does: it’s clear that Frey has put the time in re: learning the craft of writing. Her use of literary devices (like personification), the inclusion of unique details, and showing rather than telling are just a few of the qualities that elevate this work.

And there’s so much interesting material here. The book’s chronologically structured, beginning with Frey’s first memory (hot woodstove vs. toddler in a “cotton dress with puffy sleeves and a Peter Pan collar”), and one story rolls smoothly into the next. During her 1960s and ‘70s childhood, Frey and her siblings worked hard at farm chores and were “never short on ideas to keep [them]selves amused”. As a young wife, Frey and her husband lived four years in a poorly-heated mobile home with a “mouse invasion,” and when they moved to an acreage near Cudworth, they endured “ever-persistent snake issues”. They often witnessed their affable St. Bernard, Butch, “slurping up a snake as though eating spaghetti”. “Herculean” Butch also got stuck beneath the family’s Pinto (while chasing a cat), and “lift[ed] the car on two wheels as he tried to break free”.

Frey’s keen eye and ear also add to the impact of these sometimes edge-of-your-seat anecdotes. “The wind howled a devilish cry, and the willow trees reached their craggy arms to the sky,” she writes. A teacher’s “Nixon-like jowls shook when he moved his head and his thin lips seemed to be drawn in as if holding back something he wanted to say”.

The stories are often humorous (ie: getting shunted from a dance class) and always heartfelt, but Frey also portrays life realistically: a break-in, a rape, her daughter’s near-drowning and a suicide are among the serious disclosures.

The 272-page memoir concludes with a multi-generational family gathering, and a moving reconnection with Frey’s childhood home—where the book began. This reader experienced great satisfaction in the full-circle structure, and Frey’s graceful acceptance that the house—now with new owners and transplanted to Wakaw Lake—was “no longer [her] home”.

This is a mesmerizing and triumphant read.


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