- Paperback: 260 pages
- Publisher: Inanna Publications and Education Inc. (20 February 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 177133441X
- ISBN-13: 978-1771334419
- Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 1.8 x 20.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 259 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
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A Handbook for Beautiful People Paperback – 20 Feb 2018
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"Wonderful, heartfelt, heartbreaking--I can't recommend this novel highly enough."
--Annabel Lyon, author of The Sweet Girl
"Jennifer Spruit has such a distinct, poignant voice, and her briiliant debut novel A Handbook For Beautiful People highlights this perfectly. Through sharp characters and their complications, a driven narrative develops, enveloping us before we have a chance to judge. Jump into this novel. It will sweep you up."
--Joseph Boyden, author of The Orenda
About the Author
Jennifer Spruit grew up in Lloydminster, AB/SK, alongside pump jacks, farm machinery, and its endless, sparkling winter sky. Her affair with writing began with a Grade One story about a tractor, but she has since become engaged in writing about people. She studied Creative Writing at UBC and now lives in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island, where she enjoys playing folk and bluegrass, teaching kids, and rowing a blue canoe. Her work has appeared in Arc, The Antigonish Review, Prairie Fire Magazine, and SubTerrain Magazine, among others. A Handbook for Beautiful People is her debut novel. She is currently at work on a second novel.
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Marla works as a waitress and a medical records assistant, and she shares a house with her drug addicted/part-time prostitute roommate Dani. While Dani helps Marla remember to do things like pay the bills and go to work on time–things that Marla struggles with due to her partial FAS–Marla helps Dani in a lot of ways as well. Marla has been dating cello teacher Liam for several months, and when she finds herself pregnant, she doesn’t tell perfectionist Liam right away. Marla is happy about the pregnancy, thinking that she can be the type of mother to the child that she and her brother Gavin did not have, but her dreams are quickly squashed after she tells her foster parents and Liam about the baby. With her deaf brother Gavin visiting for an extended stay, Marla sees that his life isn’t as good as she thought it was since he went off to a special school. He’s isolated and has anger issues, and Dani finds that he can be easily manipulated.
With ideas of adoption, abortion, or raising the child on her own swimming through her head, Marla certainly doesn’t have any more room to deal with unemployment, a burgeoning romance between Dani and Gavin, or especially the breakdown of her relationship with the father of her baby.
Jennifer Spruit did a fantastic job writing terribly flawed characters that I just couldn’t stop reading about. Every character made mistakes and stepped right on to the brink where they could see where they were heading. Sometimes they stepped over the line, but sometimes they realized that they should take a step back. A Handbook for Beautiful People highlighted two disabilities that you don’t really see written about much these days, and these characters where delved into with emotion, depth, and immense thoughtfulness that left me with a realistic sense of these players as actual people.
I give A HANDBOOK FOR BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE a four out of five. While none of the characters are likeable all the time, they all do have their redeeming moments–and those moments make them shine when contrasted with their realistic, gritty, low points. It took me about 30 pages in before I started warming up to the characters, especially since they were all so grey–but I loved that none of them were perfectly good. This made for a fantastic read where everything is hopeless, but people find a way–always.
Secondly, let me come clean. When I first started this novel, I had to put it down after the first thirty pages. Did I want to see this story through Marla's flawed perception? No. Then, I perceived the plot as a train wreck---absolutely nothing good was going to come from this story. The light at the end of the tunnel had to be on oncoming train.
I did pick it back up. I did start from the absolute beginning and read it cover-to-cover in one afternoon. It honestly may be the best book I've read this year.
Beach read? No (not that there's anything wrong with that). Complicated and wonderful and beautifully written novel? Resoundingly YES! Spruit strings her characters together as a motley crew of loneliness, a group, as I mentioned before, that has nothing to look forward to and nothing good in sight.
Marla, the adult with FES, finds herself at the center of an island of misfit toys. Someone who first aspires to little more than saving "her diner tips in a spaghetti sauce jar on the stove" (4). She who "finds herself accentuating her whimsy and packaging it in stories about her lovability"(18) to fit in. She could selfishly have that family mentioned in the above blurb, but she wisely and selflessly makes the best decisions for herself and others around her.
Liam is her ironic lover---a would-be concert cellist plagued by arthritis. He changes from one infatuated with Marla's spontaneity to one unwilling to commit to anything permanent. He puts on airs but comes from the same place as the others. I initially wondered why Liam put up with Marla but then I had to question Marla's willingness to deal with Liam's absurd behavior (more absurd and erratic than her own).
Dani is Marla's drug-addled roommate who looks out for Marla. (Or, is it the other way around.) She obviously has her own demons to excise.
Marla reconnects with her brother well into the novel. Gavin's deafness is just a metaphor for his fragmented life. The chapters from his point of view are confusing and addled as he finds himself apart from society.
The chapter titles string together like some free verse recipe trying to make sense: Apple Seed, Ravioli, Tortilla Chip, Christmas Orange, Lemon, Cookie, Pop Can, Burger, Iced Capp., Triple Scoop Ice Cream Cone, Eggplant, Coconut, Honeydew, Microwave Popcorn, Chicken, Pumpkin, Baby, Shrinking. I'm not sure (besides some of the obvious titles) what was going on here, but I enjoyed trying to figure it out.
Do pick this book up (beach vacation or not).