Full disclosure: Fran Kimmel is a good friend of mine. Luckily, I know she also writes amazing books too, so I was more than delighted to review her latest book No Good Asking. Her first novel The Shore Girl is sort of a cult classic in these parts, I’ve come across many people who list it as one of their favourite books of all time, and although I haven’t read it yet, I hope to when I get my TBR under control.
This is a book best read in the winter. It takes place over a snowy week between Christmas and New Year’s on a rural property prone to getting winter storms. We begin with a retired RCMP officer, Eric, offering a ride to a young girl Hannah who he spots on the side of the highway, under-dressed for the sub-zero temperatures of that time of year. We discover she is living across the road from him, and because of her difficult situation at home, Eric’s family takes her in for a week while a foster family is lined up. Eric’s family is also struggling; although they seem normal on the outside, mental illness is taking a toll on each person, in their own way. Hannah’s presence is an abrupt change in their day-to-day lives, but her efforts to please her temporary family come with consequences for everyone involved.
The fact that Hannah has a positive impact on this complicated family didn’t come as much surprise, in fact I found it quite predictable. However, the strength of this novel is not the plotline, it’s the people that populate it. The quiet, subtle descriptions of family life are most compelling, and will ring true to anyone who’s ever lived with/as a family (i.e. most of us!). I began reading this book during the freak early-October snowstorm we had in Calgary, which stirred up the most delightful feeling of coziness, and short of drinking a Tim Hortons coffee while doing it, it couldn’t have felt more “Canadian”. I mean this as a compliment, because reading this book felt like getting a big warm hug, and I think it’s descriptions of our connection to landscape and weather will ring true with many Canadians living in rural areas (i.e. many of us!).
The characterization is one of the strongest elements of this book; Ellie, the mother suffering from a desire to be perfect and depression from frequent miscarriages; Sammy, the ‘on-the-spectrum’ five-year-old who balks at any sort of change in his routine; Walter, the grumpy grandfather suffering from dementia, and Daniel, the teenage son who’s grounded for smashing up a truck getting to a girl who takes advantage of him – all have rich inner lives that we get to experience through alternating first-person perspectives. Their problems are common yet we care so much about them, as mundane as their issues may be. Kimmel deftly creates a world that is easy to relate to, yet insular all at the same time.
This is the perfect book to read in that lull between Christmas and New Year’s, just like in the book. Put your slippered feet up, make yourself a hot chocolate, and indulge in No Good Asking, you won’t be disappointed!