beginning of was by Ania Szado (Penguin), 272 pages, $24 paper. Rating: NNNNN
Say hello to another terrific new writer. Ania Szado's debut novel, Beginning Of Was, tells an emotionally taut tale about trauma without clichés or sentimentality. Marta's mother abandoned her when she was nine, leaving her with her emotionally distant dad. When she turns 19 she falls for a loser - alcoholic and violent - who winds up dying with their daughter in a car crash.
The narrative sounds intense, almost over the top, but the complexities in this story are huge and the sensibilities very subtle .
Marta flees to Toronto to a church rectory and is then dispatched to the home of Mrs. Oland, who's dying and needs help going through her possessions and assigning them in her will.
Mrs. Oland, with her spite-tinged generosity, is a rich character and not entirely likeable. Then again, neither is Marta. Trauma has burned her and made her self-distrustful. When she gets too close to someone else's child, we're not entirely sure either that we can trust her. One of Szado's strengths is her ability to keep us on Marta's side nevertheless.
She also knows how to ratchet up the tension.
The surprise book of the year so far.
Szado reads as part of Harbourfront's reading series Wednesday (March 3). See Readings, this page.