Gurjinder Basran has earned an early reputation as a writer of promise: she is a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award finalist, and a writer touted by the Vancouver Sun as “one to watch.” Everything Was Good-Bye, her first novel, also won Mother Tongue Publishing’s Search for the Great B.C. Novel Contest, adjudicated by Jack Hodgins.
Growing up in Vancouver, Meena is a first-generation Punjabi-Canadian who struggles with the expectations of her traditional mother. Meena’s life is overshadowed by the paths her older sisters have chosen to follow: runaway rebel, domestic drudge, and punching bag. What will her own course be? As she grows into womanhood and her life careens toward an undesirable outcome, Meena’s choices are by turns frustrating, completely relatable, and compelling. She feels like an alien in both the Canadian and Punjabi worlds, and her loneliness is profound: “The rain that made me invisible, made us divisible…. Thin clouds that pulled apart like spun sugar covered the tops of buildings, obscuring the streets below and hiding the sky in grey fibres that made me want to unravel.”
Basran’s writing is by turns elegant and poetic. For instance, she describes grief as being “the tired of hopelessness, the tired of bad news, so much bad news.” Yet the writing is also occasionally fussy: too much mundane detail is squeezed into too little space. This is a problem common to first novels: the author spends too much time worrying about the mechanics of getting a character across a room and what that sounds like, smells like, feels like – when in most cases it doesn’t matter.
Such moments are easy to overlook, however. Meena is a sympathetic character, and her story is more complicated – and certainly less predictable – than it might appear at first glance. In the end, the writing does what good writing should do: it makes an ordinary story unique.