Top positive review
Memoir of a very erratic family
13 April 2019
Vicki Laveau-Harvie is Canadian born and in this memoir describes returning to Canada when her elderly mother broke a hip. So far, so normal. But as we read on, we discover that the lives of Vicki and her younger sister were anything but normal because their mother was frankly, crazy. Belligerently and hostilely so, resulting in an almost complete lack of contact between the generations for decades. In return, both daughters were disinherited and removed from any jurisdiction over their parents in old age and ordered to stay away. Their mother tells some amazing lies: about her children being dead, for example.
When the sisters arrive in the small Alberta town where they grew up they find their mother in hospital being her usual schizoid self; charming and manipulative on one hand and violently aggressive on the other. They are shocked to see their father’s skeletal thinness: their mother has been restricting his calories. So begins a saga. As they try to get their mother assessed as incompetent so that she can’t go home and kill their father they find themselves trawling through the usual problems of dealing with bureaucracies and home care arrangements. Vicki finds herself travelling between Canada and her home in Australia. Her sister has a near death experience which at first seems to be due to anaphylactic shock but turns out to be a rare medical condition. Stress, of course, is a factor and it fell to her to hold an estate sale when their father decided to move out.
Laveau-Harvie is a former academic (French language) and is clearly extremely intelligent and perceptive. Two of the enjoyable aspects of the book are her dark humour and her general knowledge. The allusions to just about anything going include a reference to racing driver Fangio when her father (who hasn’t driven for years) floors it making a dangerous left turn across a busy main highway. Factor in that the only reason they are facing this possible death trap is that her mother has decreed that he and Vicki should have lunch in a town that necessitates taking this route. This book has its own Cinderella story. It’s Laveau-Harvie’s debut novel and her publisher closed down six months after the book came out. There weren’t many copies around but then ... it won a prestigious prize and has been republished by another company. It’s very deserving of both. PS: The Erratics are strange rock formations erupting from the Alberta prairie. They have their own native legend.