In the Bear’s House details the lives of two Scottish immigrant families in Calgary as they raise a deaf child. The novel opens when seventeen-year-old Clare Dunlop gives birth to a son while her husband serves a penitentiary sentence for a serious crime. Clare turns her creative and brooding spirit to her family, raising her children against the odds of poverty and depression.
The deaf boy’s ninety-nine-year-old great-great-aunt gives him a conch shell that becomes a kind of hearing aid in which he hears not the sea, but the stories of those around him. Nicknamed Trout for his family’s love of the wild and his own attachment to the watery and silent world of fishes, he is traumatized at the death of his aunt and spirals out of control.
His mother, who is pregnant with her sixth child, wavers between depression and clarity, and can no longer cope with Trout. She sends him to live with relatives in the wilderness. There he thrives, emerging to find love, connection and belonging with his partially deaf, forest ranger great-uncle and his musician wife. Trout discovers that while he can not always hear the world, he can feel it and he can learn to listen for its rhythms.