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Sitting Practice

by Caroline Adderson

The opening scene of Caroline Adderson’s Sitting Practice – with a bridegroom striding joyously through a field of assembling wedding guests as the wedding meats are laid on the fire – is pure 21st-century West Coast Breughel. The bridegroom is Ross, a genial, paunchy, life-loving film-set caterer. His bride, Iliana, is a nurse. They met in hospital as she removed the packing from his nose after minor surgery. A month after the wedding, they’re back in the hospital following a car accident. Ross has whiplash. Iliana will never walk again. From the intense high of love, lust, and limitless promise, it’s almost full stop.

Cut – for this is a highly cinematic novel – from Vancouver to the run-down island community where Ross and the wheelchair-bound Iliana have opened a café, trying to find a way to go on. In her last novel, A History of Forgetting, Adderson juxtaposed the microcosm of the hair salon to the horror of the Holocaust. Here she sets small-town vicissitudes against the higher drama of a blighted life.

The balance of trivial and profound is almost Zenlike: life includes everything. Sometimes we might wish Adderson had turned away from some of life – the low comedy of Ross’s awful family, for example. But Adderson can move us from the banal to the sublime in an instant. She has an astonishing ability to get inside the heads of her characters, from Ross’s terminally self-absorbed sister (who’s the mother of surely the most engaging three-year-old child in recent fiction) to the terrifyingly stoic Iliana. For all their fragility, these people have a heroic resilience. This is generous, compassionate writing.

Adderson’s first story collection and first novel brought her a Governor General’s Award nomination, prizes, and accolades as one of Canada’s most promising writers. Her second novel delivers handsomely on that promise. Cadence and pacing are sure-footed, dialogue pitch-perfect, the unfolding story utterly absorbing. This is a writer with all the talents required to keep on delivering.