There’s been lots of drama this past week around here, my friends. Family drama… real and literary… and sometimes just drama.
First off let me apologize for my slightly fickle, one might even say capricious, internet provider which let me (and lots of other people) down last week, preventing me from posting as usual on Saturday. All across eastern Canada customers of one of our largest internet providers cursed and swore and gnashed their teeth as they were told access to their wifi was impossible. And for some, like us, who subscribe to numerous services, that meant not only internet but cell phone, cable, and even our landline were non-operational for days. We were completely incommunicado for over 36 hours starting in the early hours of Friday morning. Then cell phone came back, but not cable nor wifi. Not until late Sunday afternoon. Hence the reason you didn’t get my post in your email yesterday.
To be honest it was kind of cool to be internet-less, social-media-less, even phone-less. I pedalled my exercise bike, did laundry, and read and read and read. Hubby golfed on Friday. Then on Saturday he made us a special anniversary dinner. We raised our glasses of pinot noir to thirty-three years of (mostly) wedded bliss. I married Hubby thirty-three years ago when I was thirty-three. There’s something surreal about those numbers, don’t you think?
We also raised our glasses to my step-father’s birthday which was a couple of days before our anniversary. He would have been 100. I felt that even though he passed away years ago, his 100th birthday should be noted. That’s Lloyd and me below, walking “down the aisle” or round the corner of the deck, as it were, on Hubby’s and my wedding day. In that photo, he was one year older than I am now. I remember when we finally saw the wedding pictures, Hubby’s friend quipped, “What happened to the rest of Lloyd’s tie?” We all had a good laugh about that.
Anyway, while I was being non-devastated by lack of contact with the outside world, I did a ton of reading. And I noticed that there’s been a lot of family drama in my reading choices lately. Odd, isn’t it, how one gets on a theme sometimes without even realizing?
I just finished a book that my book club read for June. The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie is perhaps the funniest book I’ve ever read about “grief, anger, and family trauma.” Laveau-Harvie’s memoir tells the tale of two sisters who return to rural Alberta from afar where they have lived for twenty years. Their aging mother is in hospital with a broken hip and their father needs their support.
But of course the story is not that simple. Is it ever? The extent of this family’s dysfunctionality becomes more and more clear as one reads. Who did what to whom, and the fallout both past and present. A stunningly cruel and self-centered matriarch. Extended family who have simply given up trying. Two daughters estranged and disowned, one even moving as far away as Australia to remove herself from the trauma. And a father who cannot protect himself from the woman he, unfathomably, continues to love. Phew. How’s that for family drama?
Set primarily in rural Alberta, Canada, The Erratics depicts the beauty of the prairies and the foothills, as well as the unforgiving nature of the climate. My friend who hails from rural Alberta says that Laveau-Harvie’s beautifully written description spoke to her of her own childhood home.
Landscape and climate feature largely in this book: as a backdrop for the story, sometimes symbolic of the beauty and cruelty of love and family, and even in the end of the book as a character. In geographical terms, “erratics” are enormous rocks deposited by retreating glaciers. We see them here in Ontario sometimes, hidden in the forests of the Canadian Shield. You can be walking along a trail in the bush and come upon a gigantic rock, nestled on a hillside, sometimes surmounted by trees, but more often not. Looking as if it had been dropped by giants. And so it was, in a way. As Laveau-Harvie tells us, “one of those huge boulders sits in a landscape of uncommon beauty a few miles from the Canadian town of Okotoks,” and was a defining feature of the landscape of her childhood.
As interesting as the setting is in this book, and as compelling as the story of the two sisters and their parents is, the most engaging part, for me, was the style. Laveau-Harvie is not just a beautiful writer but a witty one. Her prose is so darkly wry that I chortled as I read. So much so that Hubby wanted to read it after me. This book is definitely not his normal kind of reading, but he loved it too.
Honestly, this is one of the best reads I’ve had this year. Right up there with Sorrow and Bliss and Still Life. Okay… maybe it didn’t make me fall in love with a whole cast of characters like Still Life. But it’s darned near as good. Which is saying a lot.
The other dysfunctional family I’ve been reading about is the royal one. The British royal one. The Palace Papers by Tina Brown has had me by the throat for days. I’m serious. If I am a fitter person this week, it’s because I used pedalling my exercise bike as an excuse to continue sitting on my butt reading, at times obsessively, Brown’s book. My friend, the one from Alberta, told me about this book. She loved it. And so did I. And not just because I’ve been a royal watcher all my life. But because it is a fascinating and extremely well written, and well-researched chronicle of the life of the combined royal family for the past twenty years.
I should clarify my description of myself as a royal watcher. I have always kind of loved the royal family… well, most of them. Particularly Princess Anne and her daughter Zara Tindall. But I am not a slavish fan. I didn’t have enough interest to brave the crowds and try to get a glimpse of the Prince and Princess of Wales when they visited Ottawa in the eighties. Nor even to see the Queen and Prince Philip who’ve been here several times. I remember one royal visit when a friend who simply loves the queen enthused about being able to see the top of her hat from his place in the crowd. Still, I watch the royal weddings on television like everyone else. And the funerals. And I loved the series The Crown. The costumes were so wonderful!
I will add that I have no real love for the monarchy as an institution, nor do I see it as being particularly relevant for us in Canada in 2022. But it is a part of Canadian history and culture. The opening of each session of the Canadian Parliament does begin with a speech from the throne, after all. And sometimes I wish Canadians knew more about our history, and the difference between our parliamentary democracy and the democracy of our neighbour to the south. But I digress.
Anyway. Back to Tina Brown’s book. Oh my. If you have even a passing interest in the royal family you should read it. I found that juxtaposed beside the right-before-our-eyes unfolding family drama of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last month, it made for riveting reading.
To be honest, I am basically a very nosy person. That’s why I love reading. You can get inside other people’s lives. I love a good family drama. And let’s face it, if it’s family drama you want, of the dysfunctional kind in particular, you can’t go wrong with the Mountbatten-Windsor family.
Plus Tina Brown is a very engaging writer. Her narrative pulls the reader in, as it moves back and forth in time, setting the stage for an understanding of the royal players. She does not pull her punches in this book. But I had the impression that she was fair. She doesn’t whitewash or demonize anyone. Not even Prince Andrew, who really doesn’t need any help in making himself look bad. Ha. Oprah doesn’t come off looking too well either.
I came away from reading this book with a whole new appreciation for Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. And for Kate Middleton. And a deeper understanding of how unbelievably boring it must be to be a working royal. How has the Queen stood it all these years? So many hands to shake, and lines and lines of people to chat up. Life as a royal would be like an endless “Meet the Teacher” night for me, except with paparazzi, and better outfits. That said, if you like family drama, I would highly recommend The Palace Papers as extremely diverting summer reading.
Of course we all have some family drama in our background. A little dysfunctionality. Of course we do.
My immediate family is a complex web of parents, step-parents, half-sisters and brothers, step-brothers, step-nieces. So much so that a bottle of wine and a whole evening was required for me to explain everyone to Hubby when we started dating. And it’s not just my generation and that of my parents. My mother used to tell the story of a certain grandparent’s blended family, both spouses brought children from a first marriage, and then they had a couple more kids together. Apparently one day when the wife heard yelling, she asked her husband what the commotion was and he quipped: “Your kids and my kids are fighting with our kids.” I don’t know if that story is true, but I love it anyway.
See the photo below? That’s my sister Carolyn, me, my cousin Robert who is the same age as me, my sister Connie, and my brother Terry. Carolyn, Connie, Terry and I share a mother, but not a father. Robert is their cousin on their father’s side, and no blood relation to me. Did I care one whit about all that? Nope. As I said in a post when my brother died, family simply means the people we love.
So that’s it for me tonight my friends. I am at the moment casting about for a new book to read. It doesn’t have to be about family drama. In fact I’m feeling a bit wrung out with all the drama.
I just saw that Susie Steiner died on Sunday. She was only 51. Steiner is the author of the Manon Bradshaw detective series, and one of the most promising mystery novelists I have read in years. I wrote about the first two books in her series in a post a while back. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor a few years ago, and published the third Manon Bradshaw novel after she became ill. I’m sad that she has gone. Sad for her, and for her family. And sad about all the wonderful books that might have been, and now never will be.
Jeeze… I definitely need a new book to cheer me up. A nice murder mystery, maybe. Any suggestions?
P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a small commission which helps to pay for the blog.