On this holiday Monday, which is Canada Day, I am enjoying a delicious cup of chai tea, some yummy local strawberries, and some extra tasty freshly baked mini muffins brought over by our neighbour. It’s a gorgeous summery morning, the first day of my summer break, and I'm listening to Tempo's "We the North" broadcast on CBC Radio Two… does life get any better than this?
I finished a great novel last week (not by a Canadian author, unfortunately), The Altruists by Andrew Ridker, which was so impressive I almost can’t believe this is his debut novel. In this insightful, tragicomic exploration into what it means to have a meaningful life, Ridker demonstrates an awareness and wisdom far beyond his less-than-thirty years. The Alter family have recently suffered the loss of mother and wife Francine to cancer. We the readers enter into their lives not quite two years after this loss, and find disillusioned adjunct engineering professor Arthur at a loss to make sense of his life and keep the large family home afloat with his diminishing paycheque from Danforth University in St. Louis. He uprooted his family from Boston to make this move 15 years earlier, in pursuit of a lucrative professorship which continues to elude him. Francine gave up a well-established practice as a psychologist, but made this move work by seeing clients in their new home. Son Ethan and daughter Maggie fled to New York after their mother’s death, and are still grieving in their separate worlds and separate ways. They received an inheritance from their mother, an investment that their father knew nothing about, and have been living off of that while they come to terms with their loss. Altruistic Maggie wants to renounce the money and give it away, and Ethan wants to find meaning and happiness, but this search leads him into near-total reclusivity. When their father, with whom they have not communicated since their mother’s death, reaches out to them, they decide to go home for the weekend, thinking it may lead to some sort of closure. What they get instead is a bumbling attempt to woo them into bailing Arthur out of his predicament and save the house. Will they come to Arthur’s rescue, or will they walk away in disgust? What could have been a sappy or overly satirical look at a dysfunctional family at a time of crisis turned out to be a compassionate, heartfelt, often comical look at the way one family deals with loss and tries to get on with their lives. If The Nest was written by Philip Roth (I’ll admit I’ve never read anything by Roth, but it seems like the right comparison), this is the novel you’d get, and it is a great one. I know I'm not doing this book justice, but suffice it to say that Ridker is definitely an author to watch.
That’s all for today. Happy Canada Day, and enjoy the fabulous sunshine!Bye for now…