Before you begin to wonder if I’ve taken a sharp turn in my reading interests, let me assure you this title is a reference to the city the characters travel to: Paris. The use of ‘rooster’ itself isn’t that obvious in Coq by Ali Bryan, instead it’s an invitation to open up this book and laugh. The title grabs your attention, but what’s inside the covers is just as funny and eye-opening. It’s actually the sequel to a book Bryan published back in 2013: Roost. I had read the book back then, loved it, but didn’t realize Coq was a continuation of Claudia’s life from that earlier novel. So obviously you don’t have to have read the earlier book in the series to enjoy this latest installment! I loved Roost 10 years ago, so this is definitely a writer one can rely on for laughs.
Claudia’s very senior father is remarrying after his wife’s sudden death ten years ago. Still struggling to cope with the loss of her mother, and the fact that her ex-husband is looking to reconcile, Claudia suggests the family go on a memorial trip to Paris to honour her mother: the place she wanted to travel to most but never had the chance. The whole extended family goes, including Claudia’s brother who is still reeling from the separation of his marriage (his wife has moved on with another woman) and her father’s new wife Mona. Technically Mona wasn’t invited, but she buys a ticket anyway and surprises everyone on the plane, and Claudia’s ex Glen surprises her in Paris too, so everyone ends up in the city of love, regardless if Claudia wanted them to be there or not. There are a smattering of kids to keep the trip from being too pleasant; Claudia’s teenage daughter is insistent they all attend a climate protest while there, her teenage son has fallen in love with a young woman from Paris and keeps disappearing, and her one nephew is always busily trading bitcoin on his phone, slowly amassing a fortune no one is actually aware of. When Claudia falls for an oceanographer she meets on the plane ride over, yet another hilarious wrench is thrown into the travel plans of this huge family, but through it all, hilarity ensues.
My absolute favourite part of this book, and the reason I gave it five stars on goodreads is its writing. IT IS HILARIOUS. I read parts of this book out loud to my husband because it was so funny; the only other writer who is bestowed that honour in our household is David Sedaris. One of my favourite paragraphs, (which I definitely read out loud to my husband) is a conversation between Claudia and her friend who claims she’ll never be alone because she has her geriatric cat to rely on:
“‘Whether I have a man or not, I’ll always have you, my nieces, colleagues, friends. Barney.’
I’m not sure she’ll always have Barney. He’s blind and has been on specialized cat food imported from Germany for nearly a decade. His mews are laments.”-p. 64 of Coq by Ali Bryan
Like the writing of Sedaris, Claudia’s life occasionally borders on the absurd, but those with children will nod their head in appreciation because life with children does in fact, occasionally borders on the absurd. This is the kind of humour that’s also relatable.
The plot of this book moves quickly. This is entertainment that grounds us, and offers us a different way to view our own chaotic and less-than-perfect lives. Bryan strikes the perfect mix between fun and serious; Claudia and her family are going through some serious stuff so grief is a major theme that each character deals with in their own way. But these big emotions are balanced by the humorous writing and the prickly situations this family gets themselves into. It’s also a love story with romantic storylines for every generation, but again, this love is balanced with an honest portrayal of the work that’s required to be in a long-term relationship. Claudia learns some shocking things about her parents decades of marriage while she considers the new advances of her ex-husband, so I was actually quite surprised at how realistic this novel turned out to be.
The humour in this writing should pique your interest, but the quirkiness and heart-warming plot should keep you reading all the way through. I highly recommend this one!