I picked up this month’s book on a whim. I was hoping for something uplifting and will admit to being swayed by the review on the cover jacket. Hooper tells a story of love and time, set in Canada and traversing a lifetime of memories. We’re introduced to Etta and Otto, a married couple in their eighties in rural Saskawatchen when Etta absconds to the ocean. She plans to walk there, she’s never been and we don’t really know why she would take off to the ocean early one morning, but the promise is we’ll find out. There’s also Russell, Ottos close friend and ‘adopted’ brother, and James, a coyote who befriends Etta as she makes her way across the countryside.
The story is hard to explain; it’s fleeting at times, confusing and ducks and weave through time and space. It’s hard to know what is going on initially but it slowly fills in the gaps as you progress. This is not one story, it is many. It’s how Etta and Otto met and fell in love, how Otto fought in the war and how Russell did not, now Etta and Russell almost were and how Etta and Otto lost and found each other all over again. Its also about how Etta forgets, one of the things that attracted me to the book in the first case was her condition. Alzheimer’s is something many have first hand experience of with older relatives and why I wanted an uplifting story. The reality of forgetting is painful, it’s raw and it cuts differently each day. I wanted Etta’s story to give me hope, light, happiness or just something meaningful to cling to.
Ultimately I’m not sure I really got what I wanted. The book really was a meander. It was slow and wandering and didn’t capture me. It wasn’t a story that made me want to stay up late reading just to find out what happened, but it’s not that I wanted to put it down either. I can’t say even by the end of the novel I understood Etta and Otto’s relationship. I know wartime was different, things felt different, but the love triangle between the three of them didn’t make sense to me. The journey they each took was more what I enjoyed, it was the better story, each finding their way to some kind of peace. Otto’s creations, Etta’s walk, Russell’s search for the deer, they were more interesting then their past lives.
The problem here is that those journeys, the quirky individual search for self and meaning have been done. They’ve been the most popular of story’s to tell and Hooper’s comes late to the party. Other stories, like Lost and Found, another we’ve reviewed in the book club do it better, with more clarity and feel more real despite being more outlandish.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James tries to be profound. You can see the wisdom they are trying to impart but I just couldn’t make that leap. I acknowledge that my own expectations influenced my response to this book, experience it for yourself and perhaps you’ll be able to find the meaning I sorely wanted.
Book Conversation Points:
How did you find the experience of a story told through jumps in time?
Did you identify with Etta, Otto, Russell or James?
How do you feel about Etta’s journey to see the water?
Can you relate to a non human character like James?
Next month we’ll be reading something a bit different, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.