Friday, September 30, 2016

We're All in This Together

We're All in This Together / Amy Jones
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, c2016.
432 p.

From my last review (The Widows by Suzette Mayr) with three women going over Niagara Falls together, to this novel, in which Parker family matriarch Kate goes over Thunder Bay's Kakabeka Falls in a barrel --with the youtube video of the feat going viral -- there are plenty of women trying, as Jones says in this book, "to be remembered for something".

The Parker family is a bit of mess in the first place. Serafina (Finn) Parker lives an orderly life in Mississauga, but heads back to Thunder Bay once she realizes that her mother is in a coma following her Kakabeka Falls stunt.

She's been estranged from her twin sister & adoptive brother for a while now, after misunderstandings and personality clashes since childhood. She and her sister Nicki have always been opposites -- Nicki is rough and careless, has 3 children by different fathers, is now married to a bootlegger, and has never left Thunder Bay. Finn is single and lives alone, but she also has some rough edges that she prefers to ignore, pretending she's moved onward and upward.

The Parker family must deal with their own dysfunction, while at the same time acknowledging their mother Kate's dementia, something they've all been trying to avoid doing. Over the course of four days, we get to meet 10 narrators, from Finn & Nicki to their parents, brother, sister-in-law, nieces and more. There is a lot folded into this story, with each character facing some kind of existential crisis. It mostly works, even if it felt very chaotic to me as a reader. It's very based in the emotional reactions of all the characters to various events and interactions, and I find that tiring in real life as well as in my fiction!

But overall this was a fun, contemporary read. It's full of real people, and the very real sense of living in a small town that you either love or hate, that you either want to stay in forever, or leave posthaste. The pace of the story makes you feel like you're going over the falls yourself -- it's rapid and bumpy, and might leave you a little battered. But it's an adventure.

If you like family dramas with a bit of humour, pathos and personality thrown in, give this new book a try. As a bonus, you'll get a strong sense of place (Thunder Bay) and perhaps even feel a craving for some Finnish pancakes...

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Further Reading:

Books set in Thunder Bay are thin on the ground, but another relationship-based (if slightly implausible) read set there is Michael Christie's If I Fall I Die, about a boy and his agoraphobic mother. It gets very epic near the end, with hero Will Cardiel being swept up into the criminal world almost as soon as he first leaves his house (at age 12) but is a fast-paced book that also looks inside its characters.

Another read that reminds me of this one is Daria Salamon's The Prairie Bridesmaid. It is also contemporary and sardonic, mixing humour & pathos, and is heavily centred in its location - in this case Winnipeg. Prickly main character Anna is similar to Finn, as she goes home again and has to deal with family drama and exes, in her own way.

6 comments:

  1. Three more books for my TBR list! I may as well go on an IV drip with your recommendations. ;-)

    I thought Michael Christie's The Beggar's Garden was excellent, so I'm looking forward especially to If I Fall I Die. I don't recall ever reading anything set in Thunder Bay.

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  2. Haha, book transfusions :)

    I haven't read much set in Thunder Bay either, which is why these 2 stood out to me. I love reading about smaller places in fiction, especially when they're named and recognizable.

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  3. I also thought it was quite a coincidence when I read both of these books set in Thunder Bay within a year of each other. Another one I read was Wake the Stone Man by Carol McDougall.

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    1. Thanks for the tip, Naomi! I hadn't heard of that one. Will have to search it out now & add it to the TBR

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  4. I liked this one, especially the spirit and playfulness of it. The older characters weren't quite as satisfying for me, but I enjoyed the rest of the cast a great deal. And, as you say, a great small-town-feel overall!

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    1. Yes, that's it - it was playful. I agree with your assessment of the characters; I found the teenage shark aficionado the most complex character!

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Thanks for stopping by ~ I hope you will leave your comments and reflections to let me know what you think!