Finalist for the 2018 Ottawa Book Awards
Who do the lucky become when their luck sours?
One frigid winter night, the happily prosperous Mia and Michael Slate discover that a close friend and business partner has cheated them out of their life savings. On the same night, their son, Finn, passes out in the snow at a party — a mistake with shattering consequences.
Everyone finds their own ways of coping with the ensuing losses. For Finn, it’s Jess, a former babysitter who sneaks into his bed at night, even as she refuses to leave her boyfriend. Mia and Michael find themselves forgoing tenderness for rougher sex and seeking solace outside their marriage: Mia in a flirtation with a former colleague, whose empty condo becomes a blank canvas for a new life, and Michael at an abandoned baseball diamond, with a rusty pitching machine and a street kid eager to catch balls in Finn’s old glove. As they creep closer to the edge — of betrayal, infidelity, and revenge — the story moves into more savage terrain.
With honesty, compassion, and a tough emotional precision, award-winning author Joanne Proulx explores the itch of the flesh, sexual aggression, the reach of love and anger, and the question of who ultimately suffers when the privileged stumble.
Set in the quaint Canadian town of Old Aberdeen (a stand-in for Ottawa), Proulx's provocative second novel (after Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet) follows the rupturing of the reasonably idyllic lives of one family by the events of one traumatic evening. Mia and Michael Slate receive a grim visit from the accountant at Michael's property company and learn that his business partner has cheated him out of his share of the company's profits, plunging them into sudden bankruptcy. Several streets over at a friend's booze-filled house party, their teenage son, Finn, drunk and rejected by Jess, a family friend with whom he's locked in a forbidden affair, falls into a hallucinatory sleep ("my body gone, my heartbeat floating") in the snowy backyard. When he's found, his hand is so severely frostbitten that it must be amputated. This development, along with the bankruptcy, sends Mia, Michael, and Finn spiraling apart from one another. As layers are peeled back to reveal the underpinnings of that night, the Slates learn hard truths about chance and intimacy, and how even minor acts of vengeance can metastasize into tragedies that cause irreparable damage. Gorgeously written, Proulx's narrative offers a fascinating plot and both a searing exploration of the butterfly effect of trauma and the uncanny persistence of love in improbable circumstances.