Toronto : Key Porter, c2008.
(novel with soundtrack)
I just read this new book; it came across my desk and was appealing enough for a trip home with me. I hadn't planned to read this for the Canadian Book Challenge but there it is. However, I think there's a reason why most chick lit is set in New York or L.A. or somewhere glamorous like that. When it's set in Winnipeg it calls for a HUGE suspension of disbelief!
I think I'm being a bit facetious calling this chick-lit; after all it is published in hardcover and by a publisher not exactly known for their huge chick lit backlist. Still. It is! (stomping of feet) If it had only been published in trade paper with cartoony font for the title and the photo more like a sketch instead, it would be obvious. :)
Anna Lasko, in her early 30's, has a nasty & emotionally abusive boyfriend. He goes away for 6 months, giving her time to break it off properly, which entails buying and then not reading self-help books and being ambushed with an 'intervention' by her caring friends -- one pregnant, one a bride-to-be and one a large woman happy with her size. Anna is a mess, and like most heroines of these kinds of books, she smokes, lives admidst chaos and is often quite annoying.
What I Liked:
I should have loved it; it has Ukrainians! That's one of the reasons I wanted to read it, not often you get a book set in the Canadian prairies with a character of Ukrainian background that isn't "about" being Ukrainian. I did like the way that Anna and her Baba are just there, not standing as symbols of some larger "Ukrainian experience". Rather, they are simply people who live in Manitoba who happen to be of Ukrainian descent, and they do things like make perogies and decorate eggs in a matter of fact way, not as ethnic colour. I really liked that touch. Her Baba is a tough old bird and made me laugh. Here's Baba giving relationship advice:
Relationships take work. Life with your Gido sure wasn't easy. I hung on because he's all I had. It certainly didn't help when his parents showed up from the Old Country to live with us.... To think I came here to get away from them and then they followed us. The buggers.
I found many of the minor characters and situations more entertaining than the primary story. Anna, alone in her ramshackle house, takes to chatting with the squirrel who has taken up residence in the attic. Those conversations are quite funny and quirky. Her parents are interesting and odd and I would have liked to read more about them as well. If only the light touch had continued, rather than the continuous moaning over the horrible behaviour of Adam, the nasty boyfriend. He's a jerk, we can clearly see that. We wish Anna would just get rid of him already.
What I Didn't Like:
There are tons of subplots in this, and sometimes it feels a bit too much. For example, Anna's sister Natalia has become involved with a cultish boyfriend and moved to Iran, where he takes a second wife as permitted by Islam and simultaneously knocks up Natalia. This cries out for a book of its own. At the end of the book Anna decides she will go to Iran to help her sister with the birth and hopefully rescue her and bring her home. She buys a plane ticket and heads off, lickety split. Has she never heard of passports or visas? I found this a bit of a stretch. I also felt that Anna's three friends were all constructed to play a certain role; they all had specific issues they represented so that these issues could be brought into the book.
I think my main difficulty with this book was simply that I don't really like chick-lit. I like the premise, I thought the setting was great, but somehow the main character in these books always turn me off. They are so self-centred and whiny and such a mess! If you like Bridget Jones or Sophie Kinsella etc. you may like this (though there isn't much shopping in it!) I had a hard time warming up to Anna, though, especially when she acts like a bratty 13 yr old at her friend Sarah's wedding. The point of the title is that Anna has been a bridesmaid so many times and she just wants to be a bride for once. Here she is stuck in a horrible breakup and all Sarah can think about is her wedding! So she sabotages the wedding in a passive aggressive manner, by cutting a huge chunk out of the back of the cake, by stealing the best man's speech, etc. etc. I found Anna in this scene excessively childish and really not sympathetic at all.
Salamon is clearly a genius at marketing and promotion, however; her website is full of great stuff including a downloadable soundtrack for the book, created by various Canadian musicians. It's very neat. I will look out for her next book and just hope I get along better with the next heroine.