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Canadian Reader 3

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.


The third book I read along with my Grade 12 class as part of their independent study was Marina Endicott's Good To a Fault. I'm starting to sense a real trend of character-driven novels in this particular crop: books focused on short-lived scenarios rather than evolving plotlines, but examining the individuals involved in those scenarios in minute detail ranging from loving to damning. Of the three I've discussed so far in this series, Good to a Fault is the most painstaking in creating the inner worlds of the characters.

Endicott's book was short-listed this past year for the very prestigious Canadian book award, the Giller Prize. While she didn't win, she will have earned some prominence in Canadian literary circles for the nomination. And rightly so—her writing has a precision and clarity that makes it eminently memorable.

When I began reading, I did not think I would be able to stick with the story of the protagonist, Clara Purdy, as she negotiates the consequences of colliding with the car of an indigent family. She just seemed too fussy, too falsely eager-to-please in her attempts to fend off her guilt. But inexorably, Endicott's ability to develop her characters drew me in. Without realizing it, I had come first to understand, then to sympathize with each character, even the middle-aged Clara—so much so, that it took me some time to realize that Endicott had gradually changed her from "Clara" to "Clary," the pet-name adopted for her by the children she has taken in...and that the name suited her, where it would not seemed to have done earlier. Small touches like these reach out from the novel throughout, as Endicott deftly moves from one point of view to another to show how the characters perceive one another, themselves, and the situation they are in.

If I had one complaint about the characterizations, it would be that the children are less fleshed out than the adults. They are given their moments of observation and development, but I felt I knew them far less than I knew the older characters, and I was less satisfied with where the book's resolution left them.

I had only one student read this novel, and it will be interesting to get her take on it. I feel as though it's a book that would appeal far more to older readers than to teenagers: In her initial reaction, my student saw altruism in Clara's actions, but not the more subtle self-serving motivations of guilt and loneliness that make her transformation much more interesting and gratifying, and are perhaps informed by an older reader's more cynical understanding of human nature.

Next time: The Book of Negroes (US title: Someone Knows My Name)

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