My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This one’s from The Book Shop in Penticton, July 2010.
I discovered Kate Pullinger when I was researching a paper. She has this digital novel, Inanimate Alice, which is super-cool and when you have some time, you should check it out (especially if you’re a teacher—it’s turned into a teaching resource for digital literacy/humanities). It’s in episodes, so you don’t need to “read” it all at once. There are four episodes complete now, but eventually there will be 10.
It turns out that Kate Pullinger also writes traditional novels. And, though she’s lived in the UK since her 20s, she’s actually from BC. Which brings me to A Little Stranger.
Fran and Nick live in London. Fran is Canadian; she met Nick at school when her family moved to England temporarily and when the rest of the family went back to Canada, she stayed. The stranger of the title is Louis, Fran and Nick’s baby son. After Louis is born, “they” (mostly Nick) decide Fran can’t work because they can’t afford childcare. Eventually she can’t take being stuck at home with the baby anymore and she snaps. She gets on a plane and flies to Las Vegas.
In Vegas, she meets Leslie, a real estate agent from Vancouver. Leslie is a high-roller who spends her vacations in Vegas gambling to numb her own pain. Leslie lets Fran, who has no money on her, stay in her room, which yes, is an unlikely real-life scenario, but this is fiction. Roll with it. When Leslie goes home, Fran goes with her. Vancouver is—or was—Fran’s home, too. It’s where her family is. Her sister, her dad, and her mom (Ireni). Each of them living in their own world, Ireni especially.
An important part of the story is Ireni’s backstory, her childhood growing up Doukhobor in the Kootenays. This is the area where Pullinger grew up, so she brings her familiarity with the region to the story. Once you learn more about Ireni, Fran’s conflictedness about motherhood becomes understandable. And I promise you Leslie’s story fits into the overall narrative as well.
I loved this book. I expect it might be a bit controversial because of the subject matter—“bad” mothers—but that’s what fiction is for, right? to explore the ‘what if’s, the things we think about, but don’t actually do.