Book Review: Trinidadian Roman A Clef

Lauraine Leblanc
Mad River Union

In the 1970s, Susan Morton moved to Trinidad where, despite financial difficulties, the dissolution of her relationship and the challenges of single parenthood, she became not only the town’s first female firefighter, but its first elected fire chief and first female fire chief. Warnersville is the slightly-fictionalized memoir of her adventures in rescuing drunks, dealing with the local old boys’ network and getting to know a goodly number of colorful characters.

UnknownWarnersville is a little gem of autobiography. Morton’s writing style is simple and straightforward, charming without being self-pitying, cloying or folksy. Her prose is economical–thirty chapters in 140 pages–and yet her depictions of the locales and population of “Warnersville” are evocative and funny. Chapter 21, in which she tells of the “dynamic duo” of the incompetent constable (nicknamed “Danny Panic”) and his bourbon-soaked deputy attempting to chase down an errant dog is worth the price of the book alone.

But it is in getting to know Morton through her narrative voice that this memoir really pays off. While clearly a pioneer in local firefighting as well as in breaking more than one glass ceiling, Morton never comes off as vain, self-aggrandizing or glory-seeking. Even when writing about hard times, such as the occasions she had to hitchhike to “McMinville” and back with a toddler and bags of laundry, her tone remains light and comical, never bitter or self-pitying.

Because Warnersville is a fictionalized memoir, some, but not all, names of places and people have been changed. Thus, Westhaven becomes Wildhaven and the Mad River, the Mud River, yet The Eatery is still The Eatery and the Open Grave, er, Ocean Grove bar is still the Ocean Grove. This can be a little disconcerting, or can be viewed by the reader in the tradition of the roman à clef, in which one needs to work out to what, or to whom, the author refers.

One small critique of the overall work: It could have used a little proofreading, and the punctuation is at times somewhat wonky. This did not detract from the content of the book, but was occasionally a little bothersome.

Warnersville is more Cecily than Mayberry (fictional town settings of Northern Exposure and The Andy Griffith Show, respectively); wild, weird, and yet still warm and welcoming. Warnersville ends in the 1980s; as Morton still lives in Trinidad, where she is a painter, glassblower and farmer, let us hope there are sequels in the works.

Warnersville is available from the usual online retailers, and at local bookstores and the Trinidad Art Gallery.


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