Love thy grandmother, says memoirist

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March 4, 2014

The Truth About Luck

By Iain Reid

Published by Anansi

254 pages, $18.95

By Richel Donaldson

The Truth About Luck is Ontario author Iain Reid’s second memoir. Reid, whose first book was about moving back home after university, was recently named as one of five up-and-coming Canadian authors by the Globe and Mail. In The Truth About Luck, Reid invites his grandmother, 92, on a five-day vacation. When it turns out that the vacation is really a stay-cation in Reid’s apartment, his grandmother takes the opportunity to share some of her life story with her grandson. What ensues is a charming and bumbling dialogue between two people getting to know each other.

Reid’s writing is honest and self-deprecating, full of humor and detail.  Readers can easily put themselves in his shoes when he describes waking up in the morning, his fear of house centipedes, or his nightly insomnia: “I might start thinking of all the moments in a day when it’s possible to choke on food or catch a foot and fall down some stairs. Other nights I think about something completely arbitrary.” The way he so carefully describes his grandmother brings her to life in the same way: “Her hands have held on to elegant toughness, apart from the odd liver spot or new freckle  . . . they’re strong, womanly hands.”

The narrative starts almost too slowly. It takes a while for Reid and his grandmother to warm up to one another, and the awkward silences become monotonous.  Only when Grandma starts telling her stories does the memoir become engaging. The actual events of the story exist in a confined environment – mostly the apartment – and a brief time span. Reid’s grandmother’s memories about her little brother Donald are some of the most powerful in the book:  “There at the bottom of the stairs was this lanky figure, a few feet away, a boy. I never would have thought I could recognize his posture, but I could . . .I knew it was him.” Grandmother tells stories about her experience in the war and childhood memories with such vivid sensual experience that when she stops, and the focus returns to the vacation, it is almost a letdown. Reid’s attempts to entertain his grandmother and make her comfortable are heartwarming, but they pale in comparison to the richness of his grandmother’s recollections.

Even though some parts of the memoir may be monotonous, the read is worthwhile. Reid’s realizations about his grandmother are incredibly powerful. She teaches him a great deal in the course of five days — about what it means to be alive and how to approach death. The ending of this book will make you want to grab your grandmother and listen to her with the dedication and interest that Reid did.

Richel Donaldson is a political science student at UVic. She grew up on Vancouver Island surrounded by family. She enjoys writing about indigenous culture and has learned a great deal from her own two grandmas. 

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