Author: Amy Jones
Format: Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (imprint of Penguin Random House of Canada)
Pub Date: June 7, 2016
Summary from Publisher:
A woman goes over a waterfall, a video goes viral, a family goes into meltdown — life is about to get a lot more complicated for the Parker family.
Like all families, the Parkers of Thunder Bay have had their share of complications. But when matriarch Kate Parker miraculously survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel — a feat captured on a video that goes viral — it’s Kate’s family who tumbles into chaos under the spotlight. Her prodigal daughter returns to town. Her 16-year-old granddaughter gets caught up in an online relationship with a man she has never met. Her husband sifts through their marriage to search for what sent his wife over the falls. Her adopted son fears losing the only family he’s ever known. Then there is Kate, who once made a life-changing choice and now fears her advancing dementia will rob her of memories from when she was most herself.
Set over the course of four calamitous days, Amy Jones’s big-hearted first novel follows the Parkers’ misadventures as catastrophe forces them to do something they never thought possible — act like a family.
- From Goodreads
This novel is a culmination of its title, We’re All in This Together, a fast-paced story imagined by Amy Jones of a dysfunctional family who comes together, unravels, and comes together again when faced with the news of their matriarch, Kate, who goes over the Kakabeka Falls in a barrel, only to be left in a coma while her family ponders the source of her reasoning in doing so.
But, it’s not the plot in the novel that is at the heart of the story, but rather the characters’ personal narratives, which delve into disclosing secret desires, repressed fears, and unresolved issues of anger—and when placed together, create a mosaic of failed and absurd, yet passionate characters.
We’re All in This Together is primarily a character-driven novel screaming at the top of its lungs, “Yes, we’re screwed up—but we are, who we are!”
There is Finn, the twin sister who left the rural hold of small-town Thunder Bay and the unforgiving sins of her twin sister, Nicki, for the lucrative dream of a career in journalism and a deceptively “successful” life in the city of Toronto, only to succumb to the recourse of loneliness from the cut ties of her family, a borrowed dog that she watches for her neighbour, and pretentious co-workers she doesn’t particularly like who rival one another with shallow gossip over periodical drinks.
Nicki, Finn’s twin sister, while her polar opposite, is as sexually promiscuous as she is brash and abrasive; traits she’s not afraid to use against her twin, with whom she consistently rivals, betrays, and bewilders by the audacity of her actions, and unbeknownst to her, the striking resemblance of her children.
Shawn, the inheritor of a pancake restaurant, the estranged husband of a real estate agent named Katriina, and the informally adopted son of the Parker family, is both burdened by the premature responsibility he inherited as a teenager when his mother figure was not well enough to take care of things at home, as well as the ultimatum he’s forced to face in having to choose between either saving his own marriage, pursuing his career ambitions, or staying behind in Thunder Bay to remain in his role as grounded son and peacemaker brother.
Katriina, his wife, is burdened by severe insecurity, tragic, internal self-deprecation, and the incessant need to feel in control. Put together, this all triggers a compulsion towards disturbing behaviour, a secret neurosis, and the brink of collapse.
Walter, also affectionately known as Waiting Walter, is Kate’s husband, a quiet and devoted lover, a person of great depth and keen observation, yet a person often devalued and underappreciated because of his introversion. He’s a passionate ecologist taken by the beauty and mystery of the shoreline of Tee Harbour and the majesty of Lake Superior—his Lady Superior—more an entity in person to him and a beloved mistress of sorts, rather than a simple lake as it is to others.
There are more minor characters in the novel, but rather than disclose them, I prefer to leave something more for the readers to enjoy and discover on their own.
While the characters were interesting enough in of themselves, their personal failings, dysfunction, and interactions with one another sometimes went so far as to feel unrealistic, almost bordering absurdity.
And some movements in the plot were so extreme, the characters seemed to almost metamorphose into caricatures.
Still, one could argue that the absurdity of the plot and the extreme reactions of its characters could indeed be plausible with a little concession to its plausibility. Sure.
However, I often noticed the author compare her characters’ lives to movies and how different their lives would be if they were indeed films. But, because the characters did this so often in their dialogue, it only emphasized the absurdity of the plot and the extremism of the characters themselves, which made the story feel even less realistic, but more theatrical—like movies—the very lives they kept professing were not at all alike.
But, like most films, audiences do take the time to go to a movie theatre or choose to sit in front of their big-screen televisions at home in order to escape from the reality of their own lives in the sheer hope of being sufficiently entertained.
This book, at most, does at least that.
The dialogue is indicative of its characters’ personalities, easily convincing readers of their believability and trustworthiness, both important elements in engaging and keeping the readers’ interest, which it did for most of the book until the plot and some of the characters quickly spiraled into bouts of reactive, spontaneous, and sometimes overly dramatic behaviour.
But, the novel most importantly also speaks of memory, its decay, its punishment, and its power over those from whom they are withheld—and what it means ultimately to love, forgive, or at least concede to—despite this.
It’s not necessarily a beautifully written book, but its subject of memory and the disintegration of its fragments is both nostalgic and hopeful.
Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Language/Narrative: 3 stars
Dialogue: 3.5 stars
Pacing: 3 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars
About the Author:
Amy Jones won the 2006 CBC Literary Prize for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2005 Bronwen Wallace Award. She is a graduate of the Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at UBC, and her fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories. Her debut collection of stories, What Boys Like, was the winner of the 2008 Metcalf-Rooke Award and a finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award. Originally from Halifax, she now lives in Thunder Bay, where she is associate editor of The Walleye. The author lives in Thunder Bay, ON.
- From Goodreads
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