Thursday, November 07, 2013

The Family Album

I love this cover!
The Family Album / Kerry Kelly
Toronto: Dundurn, c2012.
192 p.

The second novel by author Kerry Kelly, this is the story of a family that has been broken and reassembled into new configurations. Editor/writer Cynthia Wilkes is middle-aged, and at the cusp of having all her children leave home, when someone comes knocking... it's Abigail, the young daughter of her former husband, who wants Cynthia's help with her own literary aspirations. This contact raises all sorts of fraught issues that began long before, when Cynthia's ex, in a cliched move, left her for his younger, pregnant secretary.

The book tackles the emotional lines between Cynthia, her two children, her ex, his new wife, and their daughter -- all of these characters intermingle in varied patterns, reflecting reality for so many families today. Cynthia is a bit cynical, a bit toughminded, and is able to be civil to her ex, coming to the realization that she is perfectly fine with not being together anymore -- though perhaps not with the manner of leaving -- but that this state of being is now her preference as well.

There is a fair bit of humour in this story, and some pathos as Abigail's nerdiness and literary fixations are mocked at school. But her much older half-brother Ben, also quite literary yet also quite sporty and cool, gives her some handy support to get through this stage.

There's hockey, school dramas, a blended Christmas at the cottage, and teenage angsting. There is sober thought by middle-aged divorcees, and a young, blonde and anal-retentive second wife. Pretty much a little of everything.

And sometimes it was all too neat -- too much of a perfect balance of everything. The conclusion is perhaps a little pat, with troubles resolved and hope for the future signalled clearly. I did find Cynthia's voice uneven, sometimes coming across as "old" and sometimes "young"; it was a bit disorienting at times.

Overall, I thought that Abigail was most interesting, as a strong, well developed character, despite being the youngest of all. There was much to enjoy in this book, despite those elements that I've noted which drew me out of the story somewhat. This is an interesting look at modern family dynamics, told briefly, creating a strong picture of the inevitability of tight lines of contact, even within a fractured family.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent review, although modern family dynamics leave much to be desired!

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    Replies
    1. Agreed -- so many overlapping and intertwining connections within all these blended families makes it tough!

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