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Relative Happiness

by Lesley Crewe

Lesley Crewe’s Relative Happiness traces the life of Lexie Ivy, a self-deprecating woman who has been subtly convinced by her mother and four competing sisters that she is unattractive and therefore incapable of finding true love. Lexie does eventually find her man – indeed, two of them! – once she has figured out that a haircut will do wonders for her sex appeal.

This leads to many complications, both for herself and her family, with the end result being a tidy and appropriate coupling for all concerned. Along the way, family secrets are revealed, family wounds are healed (for the most part), and the happy ending is presented not as something “relative,” as the title implies, but as a definite, inevitable, and sustainable outcome.

The novel is only relatively satisfying. While the characters are vividly drawn, they lack complexity of personality, and their very ordinariness – rather than evoking empathy and recognition – renders them somewhat banal. And while a sense of place appears to be important to the novel’s journey, it feels as if Crewe – and consequently, the reader – is simply a tourist, lacking a deep understanding of the culture of Cape Breton and the unique impact that geography can have on people’s lives.

It seems that Crewe had hoped to tell a simple story about how even the hopeless can find love and meaning. However, the final result is that Relative Happiness provides only predictable and absolute answers to a happy life, rather than exploring the complexity that lies behind myths of happily-ever-after romance.