What happens when the tidy, prosperous life of an urban couple is turned inside out by a tragedy with unexpected consequences? After a car crash leaves their friend Marcus dead and his wife Sarah in a coma, Ana and James are shocked to discover that they have become the legal guardians of a 2½-year-old, Finn. Finn’s crash-landing into their lives throws into high relief the deeply rooted, and sometimes long-hidden, truths about themselves, both individually and as a couple. Several chaotic, poignant, and life-changing weeks as a most unusual family give rise to an often unasked question: Can everyone be a parent?
Katrina Onstad’s latest book explores one of the more controversial topics of today’s society: parenthood, and the decision (by choice or otherwise) of some couples not to go down that road. Ana and James have been married for many years, and have tried all the conventional means to have children without success. Busy with their respective careers, they half-heartedly begin the process for adoption overseas. While they are in the midst of this process, however, their friends Marcus and Sarah are in a car accident. Marcus is killed, and Sarah is in a coma, leaving their small son Finn in the care of Ana and James. Suddenly, instead of talking about parenting in abstract, they are thrust into the role without preparation.
What makes this book such a compelling read are the characters. Ana and James are flawed individuals, but they are realistic in their weaknesses. Ana must confront her deepest fears about motherhood, including whether or not she actually wants to be a mother. Her career is important to her; she is successful and important, and she loves what she does. James, on the other hand, has had a kind of one-note career. Coasting on past success, he has failed to moved with the times and is no longer the charming and informed writer and tv host he once was. Instead, he spends his days pretending to write in indie coffee shops while contemplating how he can return to his former days of glory while obsessing about his appearance. Surprisingly, it is James who adapts best to life as a parent to two and half-year-old Finn. His instincts kick in, and he and Finn develop a rhythm to their days that is all the more heart-wrenching in how obviously Ana cannot fit into their patterns.
This doesn’t make them likeable as people – but they are achingly familiar and you cannot help but see yourself and others you know through their behaviours. Ana is successful at work, but she doesn’t relate well to other women. While she professes to want children, she cannot connect with any of the children that she encounters with family and friends, including Finn. James looks for validation through the acknowledgement of his work, even going so far as to make some rather devastating decisions that ultimately impact his marriage. Neither is without blame; the addition of Finn exposes the cracks and hidden issues in their marriage that neither had been prepared to face. All is not dour and gloomy, though, as Onstad is able to weave tension-breaking humour into her observations before plunging you back into the lives of her characters.
The other characters in the book, including Finn, are less defined, as if we are only seeing them through James and Ana’s filter. This is a shame, as the relationship between Marcus and Sarah is so different that the two marriages would have made for an interesting comparison in greater detail. Finn is a character of innocence in the book, and he is the bar by which the other characters are measured. Characters who appeared mindless or trivial come into focus when Finn is added to the picture, demonstrating empathy and understanding not found in their first meeting.
One more minor thing that I loved – this is a Toronto-based book, and it is unafraid to be local. Characters wander on Queen Street, travel on Lakeshore and take the train from Union to Montreal. It’s a little thing, but I love it when the city setting is talked about as a living part of the story and not as a travelogue feature. Being from Toronto, it makes it all the more real to me, and added a further connection to the story.
Ultimately, the story ends as it should – not with a happily-ever-after, but with a happy-for-right-now that fits the characters and how they have developed over the story. It’s not an ending that will satisfy everyone, but I was pleased with it, and thought it was true to the characters (and no, I’m not going to tell you what happens – read the book!).
Everybody Has Everything is available from Indigo, Amazon and your friendly indie bookseller! This copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.