Thursday, July 1, 2010

Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

Canadian author Marina Endicott's second novel, Good to a Fault (Harper, 2010), is still on my mind although I finished it more than a week ago. I miss those characters! If you like Anne Tyler (one of my all time favorite authors), try Endicott. Her protagonist Clara Purdy reminds me of Tyler's Ian Bedloe in Saint Maybe. Both characters are full of goodness, guilt and remorse.

We meet Clara Purdy, a lonely, mild-mannered insurance claims adjuster, in the first paragraph just as she crashes her car into another car during her lunch hour. Her life will never be the same. Inside that car is a homeless family, replete with two children, a baby and a (very nasty) grandmother. On learning that the Gage family is homeless and that the mother needs a hospital stay, Clara feels so guilty, she invites them all to live with her.

Bad move, good move? Both. Clara finds herself enraptured with the three children, especially the baby, Pearce. When the children's mother, Lorraine Gage, is diagnosed with lymphoma, the temporary living arrangement becomes more permanent. Mr Gage flies the coop, stealing Clara's car and some money. The grandmother reveals her penchant for shoplifting. The plot thickens. Clara leaves her job and becomes totally enmeshed with the Gage family.

In addition to Clara's point of view, readers get inside the mind of Dolly the oldest child, who at age 8 is quite shrewd and street-savvy. Not knowing if her mother will live, Dolly starts snooping through neighbor's homes, looking for cash and valuables she figures she may have to steal later on if her mother dies and/or Clara turns them out. A soon-to-be-divorced priest, Paul Tippet, is also given page space, another lonely character who much like Clara, thrives on helping out this all-but-falling-apart family. And let's not forget Lorraine Gage, stuck in a hospital bed while her children seem to be thriving under the care of Clara Purdy.

A fine mix of characters, and for me a very compelling, both heart-wrenching and heart-lifting read. The novel was shortlisted for Canada's Giller Prize in 2008. I'll be looking for a copy of Endicott's first novel, Open Arms (Douglas & McIntyre, 2001), and hope we'll be seeing more novels from Endicott in the very near future. Happy reading!

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