It’s the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, and I’m writing my post now because I can! This is my first week of summer holidays, and every day has been super busy, with no break in sight for a few days. We decided to go to the beach on Sunday at the last minute, so I couldn’t blog at my usual time, and then things kept coming up to prevent me from writing. But here we are, with a steeped cup of tea (but no treat *sigh*) as I think about the last book I read.
I actually started reading a great book last week by Canadian author Peter Behrens called Carry Me, but unfortunately it was due back at the library and I couldn’t renew it as it was on hold for someone else, so I had to bring it back after reading only half of it. It is a historical novel set between WWI and WWII and tells the story of Billy Lange, son of the skipper, and Karin von Weinbrenner, the daughter of the Baron for whom Billy’s father works. As they grow up, they develop a difficult, awkward relationship that spans pre-war and post-war days, and results in an unexpected pregnancy during the rise of Hitler to power. The narrative consists of flashbacks and jumps in time that at first seem random and confusing, but which make sense as you get further into the novel. I can’t really comment on this book as I haven’t finished it, but I’ve placed it on hold and hope to get a chance to do just that very soon. It certainly grabbed my attention and kept me wanting to read, which surprised me because I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction. More on that book when I finish it.
Then, in honour of Canada Day, I read a debut novel by Canadian author Amy Jones, We’re All in This Together. This novel is set in present-day Thunder Bay and tells the story of the Parkers, one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve come across in fiction (well, maybe the Lamberts in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections are nearly as messed up!). Finn Parker calls her brother Shawn and finds out that their mother, Kate, has gone over Kakabeka Falls in a barrel and is in a coma. Finn knows she has to leave her Mississauga home and her “normal” life and go back to be with her family, the family she fled from three years earlier, with no warning, in the middle of the night, the family she has not been back to see since her flight. But she really, really doesn’t want to. And who could blame her? Her sixty-three year old mother jumps over the Falls in a barrel and is caught on video, a video that quickly goes viral and her mother is dubbed “The Conqueror of Kakabeka”. Her twin sister Nicki has four children all fathered by different men, one of whom was Finn’s long-term boyfriend at the time of conception. Nicki is currently married to Hamish, a man ten years younger than her who makes bootleg whisky and sells used stuff on eBay. Her mother’s behaviour is becoming more and more bizarre, her father is becoming more reclusive, and her oldest niece, London, has been arrested for drug possession. And the most normal couple of the family, Shawn and Kristiina, along with their two boys, have their own deep-seated problems. And Shawn isn’t even Finn’s real brother, just a stray lad Kate took in when he was fifteen years old with nowhere to go, a boy who always had one foot out the door… until finally he became more of a Parker than the Parkers. Can they all learn to overcome their differences and finally become what they’ve fought against for so long, a real family? I have to say this book started off really strongly. It was funny, insightful, and wise. Told in alternating chapters by various characters, it seemed to offer real insight into the experiences of everyone across the three generations of Parkers, and I couldn’t put it down… until it got to the point where I had to put it down. There was so much “quirkiness” and bizarre behaviour thrown into the book that, at one point, I thought I’d like to plunge over Kakabeka Falls myself! I think the author tried too hard to fit in everything she could think of, and she offered chapters written by characters who were not really central to the story, which I felt detracted from the story rather than informing the reader. Overall, it was a light, fun summer read that reached a poignant and emotional conclusion and left this reader feeling satisfied. It was funny, quirky, emotional and thought-provoking, as only the best Canadian fiction can be. I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10, and would recommend it to those readers who enjoy “chicklit” (I actually hate that term) or lighthearted, humourous family narratives. I have a favourite section I wanted to share with you. Shawn is thinking about his time with the Parker family: "He has been there for the birth of four children. A wedding. A cancer scare. A difficult goodbye. An epic plunge over a waterfall. But is it the big moments that make up a family? Or is it the quiet conversations on the front porch over a hand of cards, playing Star Wars in the back yard, the mundane arguments, the shared meals and baseball games and cups of tea with a shot of whisky? He doesn't know, so he has to be there for all of them, collect them all and hope in the end they add up to something that feels like a real family."
That’s all for now. Stay cool and keep reading!
Bye for now…