HOW HAPPY TO BE by Katrina Onstad (McClelland & Stewart), 304 pages, $24.99 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
This is one nasty book. Check that - half of How Happy To Be is nasty, the other half is beautiful. Okay, so the book has a bit of a split personality. Who cares, when both halves give us such great writing?
Katrina Onstad hooks us in with a first chapter about Maxime growing up on communes out west with her emotionally distant father after her mother dies. Just pages later, we're in Toronto with 30-something Maxime, now a film writer for the Daily, a thinly disguised National Post, where arts writer Onstad did a stint as a movie critic.
Maxime is not a happy puppy, drowning as she is in celebrity culture, courted by the electronic media for her frank who-gives-a-shit approach to her work and sucking back a few too many substances - and cocks - along the way.
Pop culture geeks will go nuts for Onstad's brutal dissection of the life of a media whore I will forever be in her debt for her takedown of American publicists who invade T.O. for the film festival - and many on the T.O. scene will recognize themselves. Beware: you will not not like what you see.
This half of the book (it veers back and forth from past to present) is big fun, but all the more powerful when offset against Maxime's memories of her childhood. Here, her outrageously toxic tone eases. She does, to be sure, deliver some snarky observations on the brown-rice set, but there's an almost poetic bent to these sections. And real sadness.
As a first novel, this is a triumph. Even better is what we can look forward to from Onstad. When she gets past the urge to eviscerate her easy targets as hilarious as she is when she hits them she could go very deep.
Watch out for her.
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