A stunning and lyrical debut novel
Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.
Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse.
Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather, Len, and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.
Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.
Tucker's triumphant debut novel is the story of a childhood lost, a family found, and a coming-of-age, recounted in precise and poetic language. Harriet Appleton is eight years old, the littlest of the six sisters scattered among their relatives after a tragedy befalls the already struggling family. Sent to Nova Scotia to stay with her aunts Mary and Nia, who rename her Ari, a name she keeps, she finds herself safe and loved for the first time in her life. The idyllic period is cut short when Ari's mother insists that she be sent back to her family in Toronto. Ari will spend the rest of her childhood trying to get back to the only place where she was allowed to be a child. She is aided by sympathetic teachers and a beloved stepfather, held back by her mother's cruelty and a sense of duty to protect her step-siblings. Ari writes, "all the houses that have kept me, slept me, have written their own songs," and indeed the broken homes that Ari moves between, while devastating to consider, contribute to the intricate beauty of the tale. It is at times difficult to read, but this novel is worth every moment of pain and every tear.