Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

March 11, 2010

Canada Reads 2010: Day Four

I admit I didn’t see today’s elimination coming.  I’m not thrilled about it – the book was going to go eventually, but now there’s no “easy off” vote for later in the eliminations.

In fact, it seems to me that today’s vote, in any case, is completely clear cut.  Unless something magical happens it will almost certainly be death for Nikolski.  Rolly & Michel will vote for Good to a Fault, while Samantha, Simi and Perdita will take out Nikolski.  I don’t see who would deviate from that pattern right now, unless Perdita was feeling vengeful enough to lob another bomb at Jade Peony.  Alas, Nikolski, you deserved better.

Today’s debates started to get a little more interesting, but I notice the questions tend towards terms like “resonate” and “relate to”.  The name of the game this year seems to be finding the book which is the cuddliest, which does not bode well for a book which is experimental, edgy or technically masterful (or in this year’s case, experimental, quirky or technically competent).  Perdita’s statement that she “doesn’t want to have to think” when she’s reading a novel was possibly the most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard on this show, but may in retrospect serve to explain why a book like Good to a Fault now seems to have a decent chance at winning.

I didn’t find the moralizing in Good to a Fault challenging or insightful at all.  Clara, ultimately, took on three children who had nowhere else to go, something I think most women would do if they had the means.  And Clara has the means – she is not, in any real way, put out by taking on these kids.  She didn’t have to sacrifice anything and she was not made to suffer for her actions; it was, really, easy for her to do.  Ma Pell was perhaps the only thorn in her side but painting her as an anti-social hermit effectively took her out from underfoot.  Clayton, the character I thought was going to be the actual challenge for Clara to overcome, conveniently exits the scene before it begins.  Darwin looks like a promising challenge for the half-page we think he’s a drunk, but once that case of mistaken identity is cleared up he mainly serves to remove the last adult challenge Clara might have had to contend with: Lorraine.

So we are left with a rich woman taking on three gifted and mysteriously well-behaved children at no particular cost to herself.  We have a brief moment where she “loses” the children to Lorraine’s recovery; but no worries, her husband most likely abandons her in the end and this means, clearly, that Clara will be able to step in and support the single mother.  Lorraine lobs some unfounded criticism at Clara about something to do with class or self-righteousness, but ultimately it doesn’t feel true because it’s hard to see anything classist about housing three children who have nowhere else to go.

Alright, so that’s what I think, but then, I am thinking and not just feeling.  Oh – and on that note, Simi’s claim that it isn’t the church that supports Clara when she’s down was mind-boggling.  Of course it was.  It was Paul, mainly.  You know, the preacher, Paul, from the church.

I really wish I’d liked one of this year’s books a little more because I feel that these updates are maybe a little on the negative side.   I’m still putting my money on Jade Peony thought it isn’t out of any great love for the book:  I just disliked it the least.  It feels safe and appropriate, two things I don’t generally advocate rewarding.  So I feel a little dirty there.  Oh well – maybe tomorrow will bring great surprises, hey?  Here’s hoping!

3 thoughts on “Canada Reads 2010: Day Four”

  1. I saw Clary’s character very differently. I got a strong sense that she was struggling with taking on the family, particularly the children, right from the start.

    Yes, there were some moments of warmth and, even, tempered joy, early on, and she definitely had some advantages (particularly the financial means that allowed her to make the decision to leave her job and focus on the family’s needs), but I think both emotionally and practically speaking Clary had a hard time making the adjustment from her quiet, independent, relatively-uncomplicated life to full-time parent/care-giver.

    Sometimes the awkwardness is revealed in just a sentence or two and the story moves along quickly, but that worked for me because in Clary’s situation she really didn’t have time to dwell on that discomfort; she just moved onto whatever needed doing next, making loads of mistakes and misjudgements along the way.

    1. Charlotte says:

      I think what bothered me about the issues Clary had with the family is that I couldn’t take them seriously – she frets here and there about lost sleep and a messy living room, or about failing to provide sufficiently healthy lunches. I just found myself rolling my eyes. I thought these details were meant to show us how silly she was being, not that these were to-be-taken-seriously problems that she (or we) had vested any emotion in. (Hopefully I am not forgetting or giving short shrift to any real hardships!)

      If we didn’t know she had “adopted” the family, these would be the usual day-to-day concerns of a mother. Sure we’d like more sleep and a cleaner house and we worry about our kids, but at the end of the day it’s all small potatoes and we’re happy and loved with our kids at our side.

      I think I mentioned this in my original review – definitely a lot of my impatience with Clary is that I am also a mother and she actually seemed to be having an easier time of it than I am. She has more money and great family and community supports while the kids were supernaturally well behaved and gifted. She lost, what? A crummy, unfulfilling job? Some money? Sleep? I guess I value those things so little that I couldn’t see them as real sacrifices.

      The real heart-wrencher was when she “lost” the children in the end, but ultimately she “gained” the family back in the end. And really, here’s a prime candidate for adoption or foster-parenting. I wished she could get over herself and see what more she could do.

  2. ::nods:: That’s interesting. I find myself wanting to revisit the book and my notes now, and to see where my personal parenting experience might fit with my own reaction to Clary’s character (I did not have children until I married a man with two daughters, now 9 3/4 — those quarters matter doncha know — and 6). And I should probably re-read some reviews (including yours) because I hadn’t always finished reading the book when I saw them come up and have since forgotten to backtrack.

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