BITTERS BITTERS BITTERS
by Mary Walters (NeWest), 265 pages, $20 paper. Rating: NN Rating: NN
bitters is either a really smart exercise in irony or just a really bad novel. I'm going with the latter.
Forty-something Maggie Townsend is married to MLA Archie Townsend -- we're not sure where, but since the publisher and author are based in Edmonton, let's guess Alberta. He's not the guy she met in college. He used to be a teacher. Now he's a cabinet minister deep into cutbacks. He used to be into social change. Now he's just ambitious.
Weeks before provincial election day, Maggie encounters Zeke, an old university crush, who shakes up her ordered world. Soon, the woman who stood behind her man is having trouble staying interested in the election.
Worse, the gift store where she works -- and Archie's not so happy about that either -- has become headquarters for a heavy-duty anti-Tory campaign whose primary target is her husband. Bitters refers to the small bottle Maggie swigs from when she gets stressed, which happens more and more often as the book goes on.
There's lots to like here: a Canadian setting, homegrown political intrigue and a baby-boomer heroine recasting her values.
But there's also lots to loathe -- like most of the characters. Her husband is a supercilious power-monger, Zeke is an egomaniacal author/artiste you want to kick in the nuts, Maggie's boss is a smarmy manipulator, and Maggie herself is so self-centred and unconnected that she nearly forgets she has a teenage son. She certainly doesn't notice that he's way more perceptive than she thinks.
This could have been a savvy exposé of the sad choices available to women a full 25 years after the second wave of feminism. But I have a sneaking suspicion that at the novel's end, when Maggie chooses, author Mary Walters imagines she's given us a happy ending.
What can she be thinking?*
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