When a book opens with the words "Mad as a meat-axe", you know you'll be in for an interesting ride. And a bumpy one.
The crumbling hip bone of her Mum brings Vicki Laveau-Harvie traipsing back to her homeland, Canada.
"Blood calls to blood. What can I tell you."
The opening line says it all, and somewhat explains why Vicki and her sister have been estranged from their elderly parents for so many years.
There is inexplicably cruel and vitriolic behavior displayed by the Mother to people in general, and her family in particular. Age is not an excuse for being appalling. Even inanimate objects are wary of her "The car doesn't really want to bring you here, and neither do I." her Uncle says, noting the car stalls as he drives Vicki home for the first time in ages.
The sycophantic relationship between the elderly parents had me perplexed; she the Eagle, he the prey."... a whole married life of disappointment..." It saddened me. What a way to live.
And don't start me on the relationship of the parents to their two daughters. Astonishing. Hovering between disowning them and denying their very existence. Never mind that they're all mature adults, the continual hurt that's inflicted, I simply don't understand. And to do it with such precision and determination. The Mother is particularly filled with a vile rage, and the need to continually avenge herself (from what or who, I don't know).
Having said this, the story is told with a very black humour - think a thick, deep, inky black. It makes the story utterly readable, as horrifying as this family can be. There are many cringe/laugh-out-loud situations the sisters are faced with. This take somewhat of the edge off the rawness of the story. But only just. The underlying pathos is like a sore tooth that your tongue keeps finding.
This book left me feeling deflated and unutterably sad. What is a life worth? The marching of time can indeed be cruel, more so for those having to pick up the pieces.
This dark memoir starts at the end. Vicki’s mother and father live in isolation, secluded away from civilisation in a large house in Alberta. The book opens with Vicki and her younger sister travelling to a hospital to visit their mother who has suffered from a shattered hip. This is the first time they have seen their mother in years. Vicki and her sister are estranged, disinherited from their parents for reasons they don’t know. The sisters are stunned and horrified to find the emaciated, starved, condition that their father is in. It seems to the sisters that their mother has shut herself and her husband away from the world with the intent to slowly starve and kill their father. The sisters start to concoct a plan that will keep their mother incarcerated indefinitely and save their father. This memoir is the classic example of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. To say that this family is dysfunctional does not even come close to the mark. In fact, the arrow didn’t just miss the mark, it landed so far from the mark it’s yet to be found. The mother is a malevolent, malicious harridan who loves to make up stories, bend the truth completely out of shape, and if she is not trying to kill their father than, let’s say she’s not treating him too well. Vicki writes in a beautiful, descriptive, metaphorical style which is such a joy to read.
“When winter comes, summer is the memory that keeps people going, the remembrance of the long slanting dusk, peonies massed along the path, blossoms as big as balloons, crimson satin petals deepening to the black of dried blood in the waning light.”
Another example, “They come to, and a whole married life of disappointment and bitterness slips out, like an organ escaping an incision, like a balloon filled with acid. It bursts on impact, burning holes in their spouses’ clothing and leaving little round scars on their flesh that never heal completely.”
One thing that is slightly off putting is that Vicki never uses any names, everybody is referred to as sister, sister’s partner, etc. I suppose this was done to protect her family, but it does leave an impact, sometimes jarring the flow of the narrative. Vicki also writes with a dark humour that remains a constant throughout the book. I think the highlight of the book for me is Vicki’s writing. The narrative is interesting and captivating but seems to lose steam as the book progresses. I also believe that we should have seen more of the mother, who truly is a monster, but I suppose the sister’s estrangement would have made this difficult. It is still a great read, especially if you enjoy great writing, just for the sake of great writing, and a wonderful debut. It makes you think, what are the commitments you owe to your parents? Especially when one of them at least, has treated you with such malice, disdain and eventual estrangement. I truly hope that Vicki goes on to write more as I do love her style. 4 Stars.
Once again Nat and I agree and both gave it 4 stars giving THE ERRATICS an 8. Nat really nails it with her review, it is indeed a sad book, made even sadder by the fact that it is a memoir and the mother, and her actions, are very real. As Nat says, we don't know why the mother is such a monster, why she acts so abhorrently towards her daughters, whose existence she often denies. As it is a memoir we can only really get the story from Vicki's perspective, which is a shame because I would love to find out more about the mother. So evil...…...