Anna Lasko has had a bad decade. First she fell in love with a guitar-toting artist with a penchant for emotional abuse. Then she found herself head of her high school English department, despite constant fantasies about pulling the fire alarm to escape her students. Now in her thirties, she’s looking back at her missed twenties, as well as forward toward a future that’s suddenly entirely uncertain.
While Adam, Lasko’s partner in destructive cohabitation, is away in Germany, she sees her window of opportunity to break free from their miserable life together. But like any bad addiction, her relationship won’t disappear without some nauseating withdrawal symptoms. Enter Anna’s crew of straight-talking Winnipegger pals – dubbed the Emotional Mafia – who resolve to keep Anna’s nostalgia for her dying relationship in check. They have their work cut out for them.
The unexpected detours Daria Salamon takes in this, her first novel, are the most tender and funny parts of the book, giving colour to the simple storyline. Anna’s unofficial support team includes a squirrel who offers sage advice while gorging on nuts, and her cantankerous Baba, who refuses to abandon her annual chicken slaughter despite being mostly blind. Even the crusty misfits in Anna’s lunch-hour creative writing class make up a hilariously drawn sidebar.
The novel moves quickly, and is full of snappy dialogue and offbeat humour. At times, Salamon gets tied up describing emotional minutiae that’s far less interesting than the story’s more current events – frequent comparisons of the relationship’s ill health to everything from a bedraggled Christmas tree to a stained toilet, for instance, aren’t necessary to drive home the sad state of affairs.
In the end, though, Salamon’s debut is a quirky, witty salute to that exhausting project of finding out who you are – and who you’re not – no matter how many bottles of cheap Merlot it takes.