|A Review of: The Sweet Edge
by W.P. Kinsella
"Ellen has been happy. How can she get back to that? Eight months ago is only eight months. If time lands here then it must have started somewhere. She must be able to track it back. If someone can pass her the spool she will wind the whole year in again. She will put it in her pocket and take it home. She will unspool time to back before this happened, before it all went wrong." Ellen has moved to Toronto to be with her boyfriend, Adam. She works in a gallery, while he is a student who doesn't do much of anything. She is pretty much a blank page, with very little life experience, looking to hold on to Adam because any relationship is better than none. Adam is a jerk; he was born a jerk and he will always be a jerk. He has a gay female friend whom he eventually has sex with. She becomes pregnant and he abandons her. Adam borrows money from his parents to take a monumentally expensive trip to the arctic so he can canoe down a river for a over a month. (I can only imagine what I would say to one of my children or grandchildren who wanted to borrow money for such a frivolous trip. The words GET A JOB, would be repeated several times.) But off goes Adam. Ellen finds some friends and gets involved with a pregnant woman who is having a difficult time with the pregnancy. I can see what the author is trying to do: she sets things up so that each party will grow and discover things about themselves during their separation, things that will make their relationship stronger. However, the concept works only for Ellen. Stupid, arrogant Adam, takes a wrong route, loses his equipment, and instead of surviving by some monumental act of wit and will, lays down to die, and is rescued completely by accident. At end, he is still a jerk, and one who is deeply in debt. There is some peculiar phrasing, " . . . she sees his messy curls and squinty eyes and the hair on his chest and his boxer shorts." I've heard of hair on shirts, but on shorts?
The Sad Truth About Happiness by Anne Giardini (HarperCollins, $29.95, 280 pages, ISBN: 0002005948), the daughter of CanLit icon Carol Shields, is a truly delightful novel about the endless lifetime entanglements of family loyalty and love. Featuring probably the best cover of the year, a jacket designed by Carl Carson, with the illustration, Betty (1988, oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter). Maggie, a thirtyish radiation technologist in Toronto, is independent, between relationships, and has an inquisitive mind. Her roommate, Rebecca, devises quizzes for magazines. She comes up with one she is sure can predict the date a person's death, if they answer honestly. Maggie takes the quiz several times, and each result predicts her death before her next birthday. It seems that Maggie must become much happier in her remaining months or the prediction will come true. The writing is elegant: " . . . badly aging stuccoed low-rises . . . painted Florida colors that faded and streaked in the city's frequent rains, looking like they were slowly melting away, like gigantic slabs of Neapolitan ice cream left sitting outside on a warm day." Complications arise when Maggie's younger sister, Lucy, returns from a job in Italy, pregnant and distraught that her married Italian lover has abandoned her. She finds a Canadian boy willing to marry her as is, but her wealthy Italian lover and his wife appear soon after she gives birth, seeking custody, since they are childless. Maggie snatches the baby away from them and goes on the lam with the newborn. Describing Rebecca's boyfriend, Giardini writes, "He reminded me of a medium-sized golden-furred mammal, a marmot perhaps, with a round body, a rudimentary neck, and an absurd but likeable face. I didn't like to think about what he might look like without his rumpled clothes on, although it was impossible to keep from contemplating that he might be round and golden and furry all over." How all the problems are worked out, with Maggie finding a possible life partner, and everyone ending up more-or-less happy, is best left for the reader to discover. The cast of characters is fabulous, the writing brilliant, the story quirky with just the perfect number of twists.