After a promising review by fellow book blogger Naomi, I was convinced I should pick up the latest release from Canadian writer Pauline Holdstock. Confessions with Keith is a look at a year in the life of a wife and mother who is barely holding on. I love tales of motherhood, and the frantic scribblings of this protagonist offered an entertaining plot that makes most households look positively dull. The humour is one of my favourite parts of this book, which I also enjoyed in Holdstock’s last release, Here I Am! which I wrote about back in 2020.
Vita Glass is flying by the seat of her pants, and we are treated to the disastrous consequences of her actions through the regular updates in her journal. Seemingly the only thing she does with regularity, these entries detail the dissolution of her marriage, the crumbling state of her house, the rollercoaster of her modest writing career, and the frequent trips to her hair salon to talk to Keith, her hairdresser. She lives on the west coast, she has four kids, it’s 1999 (I think), and her husband is incredibly selfish. These circumstances elicit a certain amount of sympathy, but she also elicits a considerable amount of frustration from those around her, made obvious by the remarks of her friends and family. It’s clear that Vita is used to being walked over, and those who love her wish she would smarten up, in more ways than one.
Vita is a character of contradictions; she is a caring mother who successfully makes the most of any situation; a few days during the winter where the power goes out, and instead of moaning about it, she tries to re-create a camping trip inside the house, lighting lots of candles, playing games, etc. On the other hand, its frustrating to witness her resolution to ignore her husband after he leaves when its clear she’s in desperate need of money and help; has she never heard of child support? Her inability to follow through on the ‘adulting’ part of life is what leads to many of her difficulties, which her kids obviously see and are frustrated by as well. But once I got past whether or not I was blaming Vita for her situation, I began to appreciate the humour she found in her life, and the writing showcased this beautifully:
“Later, I cried when the elephants came in. Trapped in their bulk they are so sad. I think they know we love them despite our inexplicable behaviour and that is why they do not step on us. Shared the thought with Miles. He said no. It was because the trainer has a poky thing.”-p. 170 of Confessions with Keith, advanced readers’ copy edition (uncorrected proof)
The above quote is the perfect demonstration of a few things; Vita’s empathy, the humour of her life, but also the annoying way this book is written. The sentence “shared the thought with Miles” is indicative of how much of the journal is written, not always in complete sentences, barely using the word “I”. I found this sort of aggravating, but it’s not likely to bother most.
It was an interesting to choice to name the book in reference to Vita’s hair appointments because her hair seemed to be the last thing on her mind most days. She obviously uses these appointments as a break from her everyday life, excited to chat with someone who gives her the benefit of the doubt, but Keith himself plays a very minor role in the book despite being the titular character. Towards the end of the novel Vita comes to a few realizations; about her husband, about her marriage, even about the stories Keith tells her. Even though these things happen at the same time, they aren’t all connected, but it seems to bring her a sense of peace anyway. Upon further reflection, it’s difficult to pinpoint what this book is actually about; Vita’s inner life, or her interactions with others? And which is in more desperate need of resolution – or is it all of it? Although the plot may not lead to a specific and obvious climax and solution, it’s a realistic depiction of one person’s life: the opposite of tidy.