EVERYBODY HAS EVERYTHING by Katrina Onstad (Emblem), 300 pages, $22.99 paper. Rating: NNNN
You can tell that having children has changed Katrina Onstad. She's made a significant leap on the depth chart in her follow-up to How Happy To Be, the strong 2006 debut that landed her on NOW's cover.
In Everybody Has Everything, she explores a woman's strong antipathy to the idea of becoming a mother. Ana gets what she thinks is a reprieve when she and hubby James, who's gung-ho to have kids, can't conceive. Then they become Finn's guardians when a car accident kills the two-year-old's father and leaves his mother in a coma, and Ana has to figure out how to cope.
By making it clear that Finn's parents were never close friends with Ana and James, Onstad savvily constructs a narrative in which profound grief doesn't get in the way of the essential strand: corporate lawyer Ana is stuck with a child she can't connect with, and James, deep into being a dad, imagines Finn is the solution to a mid-life crisis caused by his terror of aging and the fact that he's been sacked from his TV job as documentary filmmaker.
Onstad deploys her fine observational skills to great effect. A sequence where James, who once aspired to a career as a musician, sees his first Broken Social Scene-type band performance superbly conveys his resentment. He's a fascinating character who sees himself as a hero vis à vis Finn, never realizing that every action he takes is for his own sake, not the boy's.
But the winning element here is Ana and her dilemma. In a culture that assumes every woman aches to have a child, she's an outsider who loathes chaos - her relationship with James is based on her ability to bring order to his messy life - and has found the perfect working environment, one where women with kids dare not even mention them.
Garnering our sympathy for Ana is a major coup for Onstad. No sophomore slump here.
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