Marie-Renée Lavoie writes in French, but has become one of my ‘must read everything (translated) authors’. She’s the author of a hilarious series of books that follow Diane, a disgruntled divorcee. You can check out my reviews of those two books here and here. Her latest book Some Maintenance Required, translated by Arielle Aaronson includes the same entertaining dialogue as her first two, and like Diane, the protagonist in this one is a fiery female who has a kind heart and a sharp tongue to match.
Laurie has turned 18, and is working towards finishing her schooling. It’s 1993, she’s an only child, and she’s applying for a waitressing job to get her out of the current gig at a bakery. She lives at home with a kind mother who adores her, and a quiet father who admires her from afar. There is a young child named Cindy who lives in their neighborhood who belongs to a pair of neglectful parents that could care less about their kid, so Laurie and her mother have taken to providing Cindy with regular meals, and warmer clothes when needed. At one point they catch lice from Cindy, and instead of treating the problem properly, Cindy’s mother cuts chunks of hair off her kid’s head. Laurie has a tendency to lose her temper at times, and she bursts into rage at Cindy’s mother, complicating the arrangement everyone seemed to have settled into. Laurie’s family lives a quiet, modest life, but they love each other very much, and it’s obvious their apartment is a warm and welcoming one. Laurie has a few friends that she chums around with, and a love interest by the name of Roman comes into her life. There are no major news-worthy conflicts that come into Laurie’s life, instead, this book just follows her, and all the little situations that makes up her everyday life.
The book begins with a funeral, and ends with a funeral. And although that may seem to be a macabre bookend to a novel, it in fact situates it in the most realistic way. Haven’t you ever felt that way in your life? You’ll go years without having a close friend or relative die, and then a few happen consecutively over a short period of time. It’s just life. And Laurie has a common, easy-to-relate to life that is simple, but joyful.
There are many reasons to love Laurie; she is a fallible character with many facets to enjoy and explore as we follow her.
“Roman was studying to be a veterinarian, just like his parents. I was glad I hadn’t found this out before, or I might have been interested in him for the wrong reasons. To keep up appearances, I said my father worked in a garage as a parts manager and my mother worked at the hospital in technical support. We all need hubcaps sometimes, to hide the rust on our rims”.-p.141 of Some Maintenance Required by Marie-Renée Lavoie, translated by Arielle Aaronson
The matter-of-fact style of writing is the most charming aspect of this book. Laurie is kind, down-to-earth, and honest. She isn’t fancy, but upholds her morals, evident when she rips down the calendars picturing half-naked women at the mechanics shop her father works for. But she’s also a hard-worker with a rough edge, perfectly evident when describing the botched color of her hair dye:
“It’s piss yellow, like when you’ve been holding it in for awhile”.-p.84 of Some Maintenance Required
It’s unfair of me to imply that nothing much happens in this book, because that’s not entirely true. Laurie’s character grows and develops. Not so much a coming-of-age novel, because Laurie is an adult when we first meet her. Instead, she develops into a woman she deserves to be – this is where the ‘maintenance’ of the title comes in. Laurie becomes a young woman who stands confidently in her own skin, and a human that many of us should strive to emulate. But it’s the writing that stands out in this novel though, not the plot. And to say that about a translated work of fiction (now her third) is an incredible testament to both the writer, and the translator. They are a dynamic duo, and I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.