Patriarchy Lies: Women Are Funny

Book Cover Better Luck Next Time

Kate Hilton's latest novel is Better Luck Next Time, a story that puts the comedy in "divorce comedy" and of which Marissa Stapley writes, "Kate Hilton’s writing reminds me of Nora Ephron‘s work: it’s laugh-out-loud funny, with startling observations about life, love, family and reinvention at any age."

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Patriarchy tells so many lies that it’s hardly a sport to single one of them out for special attention. Let me do it anyway: Women are funny. And when they set their minds to writing comedy—especially about the intricate web of relationships that we call a family—they do it very well. (Perhaps it is the feminist undercurrent in women’s comedy that the patriarchy finds unfunny? Just a thought.) Today we celebrate the women of Canadian humour writing, and their perfectly dysfunctional families.

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Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin

Dysfunctional Family: Ayesha Shamsi is an aspiring poet and substitute teacher who lives with her widowed mother, her brother, and her grandparents—unmarried and seen by many in her conservative Muslim community as being past her prime. Her 20-year-old cousin, Hafsa, on the other hand, is racking up record numbers of proposals, and Ayesha’s uncle asks her to keep Hafsa out of trouble.

Best in Class: The Spoiled Brat. Based on Lydia Bennett from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Hafsa is pretty and extremely shallow, interested in the attention and shopping associated with weddings, but not in the hard work of love. She’s a study in contrasts: insecure and supremely confident, lazy and fiercely competitive, cunning but easily fooled.

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Based on a True Story, by Elizabeth Renzetti

Dysfunctional Family: Augusta Price, an alcoholic former soap opera star with a hit memoir that may or may not be true, her estranged adult son, and the former lover (now a romance guru in Los Angeles) who might have fathered her son during an out-of-body shamanic ayahuasca experience.

Best in Class: The Unapologetically Unnatural Mother. Augusta is a raging narcissist bent on petty revenge and self-indulgence. At a dinosaur museum with her son, she watches other mothers throw pennies in the fountain and make wishes on behalf of their children, while her coin is offered with the thought: I hope I’ve got enough Valium to see me through the week. This is the moment when Augusta realizes she was never meant to be a mother, and her parenting devolves from there.

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One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, by Scaachi Koul

Dysfunctional Family: The Kouls themselves: Scaachi, her brother (and his wife, and Scaachi’s adored niece Raisin), and their aging parents who came to Canada from India as immigrants. While the essays in this collection cover ground from hair removal to internet trolls, the connecting thread is Scacchi’s simultaneous love for her parents, and her exasperation with their histrionics, particularly those directed at her relationship with her older, white boyfriend. 

Best in Class: The Father with a Flair for the Dramatic. Papa Koul is “a lot of work”: mercurial, self-pitying, charming, furious, impossible. He throws tantrums and specializes in the silent treatment. He perceives slights and outrages everywhere. And he dislikes saying goodbye at the end of phone calls, preferring a parting statement significant enough to be remembered should he die after hanging up. “I’ll be here,” he says. “Staring into the abyss.”

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Son of a Trickster, by Eden Robinson

Dysfunctional Family: Jared Martin, sixteen, has an extended family that includes an erratic mother and her drug-dealing boyfriend, an Oxy-addicted father who can’t make the rent without extra income from Jared’s pot cookies, a teenaged sister who wants him to babysit her kids so she can party, and a maternal grandmother who won’t have anything to do with him because she’s convinced that he’s the son of the Trickster. 

Best in Class: The Mother with a Violent Streak. Maggie Moody is volatile, to put it mildly, and has notoriously bad taste in men. She pins one of them to the floor with a nail gun and pulverizes another’s pet pit bull with her truck, both in displays of maternal protectiveness. She steals snowmobiles, gets high, and disappears for long stretches of time. She is smothering and destructive, and also, possibly, a witch.

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The Chai Factor, by Farah Heron

Dysfunctional Family: Amira Khan lives with her divorced mother, her traditional and opinionated grandmother, and her adorable much-younger sister. Rounding out the family is her cousin, Sameer, who has rented out the basement suite with his barbershop quartet (including Amira’s unexpected love interest), and a secret. 

Best in Class: The Tortured Cousin. Sameer has come out to his mother in Ottawa, but not to the crowd of judgmental aunties in Toronto. He’s madly in love with one of the other singers in the quartet but can’t quite get up the nerve to confess his love publicly…so he asks Amira to play the role of his fake girlfriend at a large family gathering. It goes about as well as you might expect.

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The Figgs, by Ali Bryan

Dysfunctional Family: June and Randy Figg are living with three adult children who can’t seem to launch despite their mother’s unsubtle encouragement to do so, when change arrives with an unanticipated newborn grandchild who also takes up residence in the Figg house.

Best in Class: The Menopausal Mother as Unreliable Narrator. June seems like the one keeping the family together, until you realize that she’s spending most of the novel crying, throwing things, having dissociative hot flashes and wilfully misunderstanding her family.

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We’re All in This Together, by Amy Jones

Dysfunctional Family: The Parkers are forced into an unwanted reunion after their matriarch, Kate, goes over the local waterfall in a whiskey barrel belonging to her bootlegger son-in-law, survives, and becomes an internet sensation as the Conqueror of Kakabeka.

Best in Class: The One That Got Away. Every family has an outcast, in this case Finn Parker, who sneaks off to Toronto in the middle of the night leaving a festering pool of resentment, betrayal, and fury behind her. Finn embodies the ambivalence at the heart of all difficult family relationships: the desire to belong and the need to run as far away as possible to ensure psychic survival.

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About Better Luck Next Time:

It isn’t easy being related to a feminist icon, especially when she’s celebrating the greatest moment of her storied career.

Just ask the daughters of Lydia Hennessey, who could have it all if only they’d stop self-destructing. Mariana, the eldest, is on the verge of throwing away a distinguished reputation in journalism, along with her marriage. Nina, the middle daughter, has returned from a medical mission overseas as a changed woman but won’t discuss it with anyone. And Beata, the youngest, has a hostile teenaged son who just discovered the existence of a father who didn’t know about him either. Meanwhile, their cousin Zoe is making divorce look like a death match, while her brother, Zack, is grappling with the fallout from his popular television dramedy, which is based far too closely on Lydia herself.

It might be easier to find their paths if they could step out of Lydia’s shadow—but the biggest women’s march in history is underway, and Lydia and her family are at the centre of it.

Over the course of an eventful year, the Hennessey children contend with the big struggles of midlife: aging parents, raging teens, crumbling marriages and bodies, new loves and the choice between playing it safe or taking life-altering risks. And as they inch toward a new definition of happiness, they might even persuade their parents—and themselves—that they’re all grown up.

 

 

 

January 4, 2021
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