Six years after her successful debut novel, How Happy to Be, Toronto journalist Katrina Onstad returns with the highly anticipated follow-up.
Professional couple Ana and James are child-free, though not for lack of trying. Years of futile fertility treatments have led them to begin the process of adopting a child from China. Their world is upended when a car accident leaves their friend Marcus dead and his wife, Sarah, in a coma. Ana and James are startled to learn that they are the legally appointed guardians of Finn, Marcus and Sarah’s two-year-old son. By bringing Finn into their lives, Ana and James discover a great deal about themselves and their relationship. These revelations are both joyous and heartbreaking, and Onstad handles both aspects well.
Employing frequent flashbacks and shifting points of view, Onstad explores the complexities of the comingling of experience, emotion, and history, and the enormous influence of the past on the present. The characters’ motivations, self-revelations, and discoveries are carefully elucidated, such that the reader is able to form connections not just with Ana and James, but with the supporting characters as well. By inviting the reader to experience the events of the novel from a variety of perspectives, Onstad allows for increased empathy and understanding.
For the most part, events unfold slowly and precisely. Onstad delicately builds up layers and peels them away, moving leisurely, yet inexorably, toward what might seem to be the inevitable conclusion. It is, therefore, jarring when all this careful groundwork is whisked away in the final 25 pages, which race through events with bewildering speed. The haste with which these climactic scenes unfold feels slapdash and unsatisfying; the characters, and the reader, deserve the more deliberate, nurturing exploration provided in the rest of the book.