High Clear Bell of Morning is a moving portrayal of a family’s experience with a mentally ill family member and the environmental dangers facing sea animals, especially killer whales.
Glen, a marine biologist, has been charting the incidence of young killer whales’ deaths in the Salish Sea off the coast of British Columbia and Washington State. At the same time, his teenage daughter, Ruby, begins to exhibit startling symptoms which include hearing voices, abusing her parents and brother in various ways and behaving bizzarely. Despite her parents’ best efforts to find help for her she ends up on the street, with a drug-addicted boyfriend and becomes addicted herself. Glen, in an attempt to understand her behaviour, takes her medications and is completely incapacitated for a period of time.
He continues his studies of the dead killer whales, finding that they are full of toxic pollutants and tries to find parallels between them and Ruby’s situation. Eventually, Ruby is rescued from her drug filled residence and is admitted to a treatment centre where she finds a new life. Glen is incarcerated for the murder of Ruby’s boyfriend, and his wife leaves him and takes the children East.
The story is told from two points of view: Glen and Ruby. In Glen, we see the anguish of the family as they try to help their daughter, and the toll mental illness takes on a family. With Ruby, the reader has a glimpse into the hell of mental illness when the sufferer is overtaken by forces beyond her control.
The author has done much research in telling the story and it shows. For the most part, the reader sympathizes with the characters, even though they can behave in maddening ways.
Reviewed by Hilary Munro