My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Published on: April 1, 2013
Publisher: Freehand Books
Source: Electronic review copy from the publisher
Claudia, single mother of two young children, pines for her past independent life. Her ex, after all, has moved on to a new wardrobe, a new penchant for lattes–and worst of all, new adult friends. But in Claudia’s house she’s still finding bananas in the sock drawer and cigarettes taped to wrestling figures. Then Claudia receives the unexpected news that her mother has died.
Shared through the hilarious, honest, and often poignant perspective of a single mother, Roost is the story of a woman learning about motherhood while grieving the loss of her own mother. And as she begins to mend, she’s also learning that she might be able to accept her home–as it is.
A funny thing happened while I was reading Roost. I was on a flight from Nova Scotia, author Ali Bryan’s home province and the setting of Roost, on my way home to Alberta, where Bryan now lives. I was nursing Henry while Ben played on his iPad. Ben’s legs don’t reach the floor, so he braced himself on the seat in front of him to adjust his position. The woman in front of Ben turned around and said, “If your son kicks my seat again, I am going to come back there and pour a glass of water over his head.” I said, “He’s three. I’m doing my best.” She told me to “do better” and turned around, huffing and puffing. This woman threatened my three year old son and called me a bad parent. As shame burned just below the skin on my reddening face, I thought, “this is exactly the type of thing that would happen to Claudia. Except she wouldn’t give a flying fuck.”
Claudia is our heroine, a woman smack in the middle of various family dramas, with barely enough time or energy to register it all, let alone deal with the fall out. She’s got two young kids, a prissy brother and sister-in-law, eccentric parents, and an ex who’s moving on with his life entirely too quickly A crisis occurs when her mother dies, and everyone around her starts to unravel. Her family seems to think, Claudia is already heaped on with responsibility, so, why not add more? Why not have her deal with funeral arrangements, and take care of her nieces and nephews while sister-in-law is treated for postpartum depression? Why not leave her holding the (garbage) bag when her father’s hoarding comes to light? I think about Claudia when I’m feeling busy or stressed or hard done by. I’ve got it easy.
This all sounds a little heavy, but the book is hilarious. I love Bryan’s deadpan style. Claudia says, of her two-and-a-half year old daughter,
…when you first held her in the hospital and she weighed five pounds and she gazed in your eyes and you fell in love, did you ever imagine that you would one day think she was an asshole?
Anyone who’s had a two-and-a-half year old gets this.
I loved how present the children are. I often find that children are seen and not heard in literature, but anyone who’s had children knows that they are everywhere – their voices, their messes, their routines and habits that must be observed. Roost is not about the children, really, but they are always in the picture.
I found some of the characters and story lines strained credibility. Claudia’s brother in law is so terrible, he becomes a little hard to believe. And I don’t understand how her father hides a hoarding habit for five months when both his children live in the same city. Maybe it’s just that Claudia is so strongly written. She also has a story line that’s a little out there, involving an airline luggage mix up, a suitcase full of maternity clothes, a fake pregnancy, and a one-night stand, but I believed her. I understood why she needed to go a little crazy for a while and pretend to be someone else.
Oh, speaking of that one night stand, I love this, immediately following:
He makes a quiet exit and when he disappears from the room I feel intense and bold and exhausted. Like I just cut a seven layer cake with a guillotine.
I’ve seen a few reviews that describe this book as a series of vignettes, but I found the short chapters very cohesive and satisfying. I devoured Roost in two days and was sad that it didn’t last me the whole flight back to Edmonton. Huffing and puffing lady turned around two more times before we arrived, and I hope she picks up a book like this, and then maybe she’ll get it, that kids are just messy and loud and terrible but it’s not their fault. In the meantime, I’ll keep thinking of devastating comebacks, weeks too late.