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Debut novel paints unflattering familial portrait: novelist’s family upset

Apologize, Apologize! is not just the title of Elizabeth Kelly’s debut novel, it’s also what her estranged brother is demanding she do on account of the way their family is represented in the book. According to the National Post‘s Afterword blog, Kelly’s brother, Arthur, responded to a review of the novel by sending an e-mail to the Post, which demanded that the newspaper

alert readers to the fact she is maligning her family, which she identifies as the book’s inspiration. Her interviews distort our family life, much to the dismay of her 85-year-old mother, myself and sister Susan … none of the book’s characters have any redeeming qualities, so you can understand our objections to the author’s claims they are based on her own family.

The novel, which is described by its publisher, Knopf Canada, as “a rollicking and generous story filled with characters that are a delight to get to know and impossible to forget,” features (among other things) a mother who reacts to the drowning of her son by asking the dead son’s brother, “Why did it have to be him…. Why couldn’t it have been you?” and a father who makes public displays of himself:

Pop, impeccably dressed and manifestly drunk, had apparently decided to crash the party and was threatening to take apart anyone who tried to interfere.

“What’s he saying?” one of the guests asked while I watched, aghast and disbelieving, as Pop, shouting and red-faced, spewing spit and rage, trumpeting and heaving like a rogue elephant, wrestled with security. He was bent over at the waist, his stomach straining against three sets of arms, hotel employees vainly trying to drag him back outside.

While these portraits may lack a certain sympathetic veneer, Kelly’s brother seems to have forgotten that the novel is, um, fiction. In her response to Arthur’s accusations (also posted on The Afterword blog), Kelly states:

Obviously, the book is fiction “ no part of it corresponds to any of the events of my own life, which should be apparent to even the most disinterested reader.

If there is a soupçon of disingenuousness here “ what novelist doesn’t cull from real life to some degree “ it is nonetheless appropriate to bear in mind the novel’s generic classification. This whole tempest in a teacup should rightly remain a “private and personal matter” “ at least until Kelly writes her family memoir.