By Dominique Demers
Illustrated by Stéphane Poulin
Dominique and Friends
Out of print
Dominique Demers is a best-selling French-Canadian author but, sadly, most of her books have not made it across the border. Old Thomas is the only book by her I’ve ever read, and I adore it. Demers’s writing is beautiful; she carefully chooses her words, imparting as much information as possible without weighing down the story. It’s like a fairy tale—not in the usual sense, though the story does involve a fairy—in that it follows that clear, quick style of writing. With just a few short sentences readers are drawn into Old Thomas’s world.
This is also the only book I’ve ever seen illustrated by Stéphane Poulin, whose somber art is the perfect complement to this odd and touching story. Somehow dim and radiant at the same time, his deeply rich, stark oil paintings seem to fill more space than the pages that contain them. Each spread is its own masterpiece. Old Thomas bears a striking resemblance to Geri from the Pixar short Geri’s Game and looms large on the pages in which he appears, especially in contrast to the small, delicate fairy.
Old Thomas lives alone by the ocean. He no longer fishes and he’s sworn off humans. He’s very old, and very angry. At night he walks the beach and shouts insults at the moon and stars. But when he finds a tiny girl no bigger than a matchstick washed up on shore, he cannot leave her behind. She’s probably not human, she’s so small; might she be a fairy? Old Thomas takes the diminutive being home.
He makes a small bed for her out of a shell; he drips rain water into her miniature mouth. Taking excellent care of his new charge, he brings her back to health. He starts walking the beach collecting sweet fruit for her and he begins fishing again. When he next goes out to shout insults at the sun, he discovers his anger has left him.
One day Thomas is out in his boat catching fish for his wee friend when he is overcome by an ominous feeling; he rushes back to shore. Upon reaching his home he finds a large dog standing over the frightened girl. Thomas summons all his strength and courage and successfully fights off the beast. The girl, having fainted from the scare, awakens to a battered Thomas lying unconscious on the floor.
Returning all the love and tenderness Old Thomas has shown her, she brings him sweet fruit and fish, but Thomas won’t have it. He knows his time has come and he’s ready to go.
“He no longer wanted to insult the moon or the sea, the sun or the wind. His little fairy was there at his side, safe and sound and wonderfully alive. Old Thomas was content.”
That night, Old Thomas surrendered himself to the sea. As the waves washed him away there was a great chorus of birds singing, and the little girl disappeared. The beach was empty, save the “mulitcoloured pebbles, ribbons of seaweed and pearly nuggets” left behind.
This is a beautiful and haunting story. Is the young girl a fairy? Has she appeared to prepare Old Thomas for his death? Why does she disappear after he dies? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it only matters that Old Thomas did not leave this world angry; he was able to love and be loved, however briefly, before it was all gone forever.
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