By Sophie B. Watson
Brindle & Glass. 217 pp. $19.95
Reviewed by Julia Kochuk
In her witty debut novel Cadillac Couches, Sophie B. Watson sets scenes of Canada’s cross-country landscape to a playlist of nineties favourites. Watson tells the journey of two “foul mouthed, Albertan, wannabe Edwardians” in their early twenties, chasing music and purpose .
It’s summertime in the late nineties under the prairie skies of Edmonton. The air is laced with Dan Bern and the scent of fresh onion cakes. Anxiety-ridden Annie is stuck in inertia: watching, not living; a fan, not a player. She nurses her broken heart with red wine, music, and cigarettes smoked on her “Cadillac couch,” a vintage couch she bought “for twenty-five bucks at the Salvation Army on the north side of the river one lucky Saturday.”
The inertia and heatbreak make Annie antsy. She must get her mind off her ex, and her butt off the couch. She must make real-life rock star Hawksley Workman fall in love with her. She decides a road trip to the Montreal Folk Festival, with her très chic friend Isobel, is in order. Hawksley will be performing.
Will Annie gain control of her anxieties? Will she get over Sullivan? Will she get the chance to meet and/or marry Hawksley? What is Annie’s purpose, her holy grail? Will she ever find it?
Sophie B. Watson is an award-winning freelance writer, published in several magazines including Canadian Dimension, Briarpatch Magazine, and Legacy Magazine. This is her first novel.
Cadillac Couches reveals Watson’s ability to create truthful character and voice: Annie is old enough to pay her own bills, but youthfully naïve enough to hope “sexy-ass troubadour” Hawksley Workman could pick her from a swarm and fall madly in love with her. Cadillac Couches effectively represents the stage between teen and adult: that in-between stage where responsibilities are low and expectations for life are high.
The novel unfolds chronologically, starting with the escape from Edmonton in a beat-up 1972 pink Volkswagen Bug named Rosimund. The action is staccatoed with flashbacks and daydreams, mirroring the road trip mind. Each chapter opens with a sketch and lyrics, as if you were doodling in your notebook and fiddling with the radio from the passenger seat of the car.
While life looks rosy through Rosimund’s windows, the story sometimes moves faster than the poor Bug can travel: the novel is packed full of road kill, fuzzy navel drunken nights, high school memories, a pregnancy scare, and many minor characters. However, this still rings true to the true road trip nature, where scenes flash by windows and people are forgotten as you pull away from gas stations.
Cadillac Couches is a marvelously quirky and enjoyable novel. It is as much a ballad to Canada, as it is to music. It captures all you feel about the scenery passing by, the songs you know the words to. It reminds you that you can escape, but also that seasons change; you can come home more you than you were when you left.
Julia Kochuk is a fourth-year writing student at the University of Victoria.