Harriet is eleven, going on thirty. Her mixed media paintings are a source of wonder to her younger brother, Irwin, but an unmitigated horror to the panoply of insufficiently grown up grown-ups who surround her. She plans to run away to Algonquin Park, hole up in a cabin like Tom Thomson and paint trees; and so, to fund her escape, she runs errands for the seniors who inhabit the Shangrila, the decrepit apartment building that houses her fractured family.
Determined, resourceful, and a little reckless, Harriet tries to navigate the clueless adults around her, dumpster dives for the flotsam and jetsam that fuels her art, and hopes to fathom her complicated feelings for Irwin who suffers from hydrocephalus. On the other hand, Irwin’s love for Harriet is not conflicted at all. She’s his compass. But when fate intervenes, it’s Irwin who must untangle the web of the human heart.
Masterful and mordantly funny, Strube is at the top of her considerable form in this deliciously subversive story of love and redemption.
Harriet is an artist and an entrepreneur, destined for greatness if she could just free herself from the Shangrila the rundown Toronto apartment complex where she lives. She spends her days dumpster diving for found-object art supplies and running errands for the elderly in her building, saving for her escape to the wilderness of Algonquin Park, where she wants to live and work in isolation, as the famous painter Tom Thomson did. She's sick of being the only adult in her family, having to deal with her mom's broke lawyer boyfriend and her younger brother's hydrocephalus, withstanding all the chaos and noise, and being criticized and told she lacks compassion. It would be a lot for anyone to cope with, and Harriet is only 11. Strube, whose previous works (Lemon) have been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and other awards in Canada, captures a madcap sense of momentum and consequence that never falters or overwhelms. Each character is part of Strube's deliberately constructed card tower, the building of which, as readers anticipate its eventual fall, provides the narrative with a tremendous amount of strength and personality. And though Strube imbues most interactions with some degree of comedy and sarcasm, the novel never lacks empathy. Its unexpected turn partway through is suitably wrenching, and the novel's second half, decidedly different in tone and voice, becomes a beautiful echo of its first. Highly recommended.