Hodder Headline Sceptre, $22.95 pb, 267 pp
During my reading of Susan Varga’s first work of fiction, Happy Families, I was drawn back into the fields of family and emotion as offered in the two recent American films: The Ice Storm and Six Degrees of Separation. Each of these works hard at tracking the intricacies of humans connecting and communicating, the tectonics of family and emotional landscapes. Happy Families shows us, up close, mothers and daughters, aunts and grandchildren and cousins, lovers and spouses and neighbours. The drive of the work is, as with the two films cited, about how trauma is carried in the body, how we try and trick ourselves about recoveries. And, to a lesser extent, how we integrate the apprehension of difference into our experience of walking through the world. Varga’s novel is one of restitution and connection.
On reflection, this became even more pronounced weeks after I had finished the novel. Happy Families has a powerful thread of compassion and works from a basic premise that change is possible, I suppose; while that might sound naïve, it is also accurate in the terms of this book and so I’m sticking with it. Change occurs, is embarked upon, across class and race and generations and sexuality for these characters, and it is always profound.