Joyce Sparks has lived the whole of her 86 years in the small community of Balsden, Ontario. As a girl, Joyce allowed herself to imagine a future of adventure in the arms of her friend Freddy Pender, whose chin bore a Kirk Douglas cleft and who danced the cha-cha divinely. Though troubled by the whispered assertions of her sister and friends that he wasn't 'normal,' Joyce adored Freddy for all that was un-Balsden in his flamboyant ways. When Freddy led the homecoming parade down the main street, his expertly twirled baton and outrageous white suit gleaming in the sun, Joyce fell head over heels in unrequited love.
Years later, Joyce married Charlie, who was nothing like Freddy, and bore a son who very much reminded her of Freddy. Tragic news of her childhood love arrived and Joyce was forced to face how far she should to go to protect the fate and life of her son and the implications her decision had.
Today, as her life ebbs away in the bed at Chestnut Park Nursing Home, Joyce ponders the terrible choices she made as a mother and wife and doubts that she can be forgiven, or that she deserves to be. When a young nursing home volunteer named Timothy appears, so much like her long lost son, Joyce wonders if there be some grace in her life after all.
Voiced by an unforgettable and heartbreakingly flawed narrator, Natural Order is a masterpiece of empathy, a wry and tender depiction of the end-of-life remembrances and reconciliations that one might undertake when there is nothing more to lose, and no time to waste.
BRIAN FRANCIS is the author of three novels: Fruit, a 2009 Canada Reads finalist; Natural Order, which was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo, and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011; and, most recently, the YA novel Break in Case of Emergency, a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Awards.
Shortlisted for the Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award
Kobo Top Books of the Year
Toronto Star Best Books of the Year
Georgia Straight Best Books of the Year
“Good, sharp, vivid writing.... When he hits the emotional high notes, Francis never wavers. In fact, if you value your dignity, I implore you not to read the final sixty pages in a public place: You will cry, hard, probably more than once.” —The Globe and Mail
“Natural Order is structurally complex, highly readable, and poses interesting questions about generational change and the divide between small-town and big city lifestyles. . . . Illuminating and moving.” —Quill & Quire
“A remarkably honest and uniquely Canadian book. . . . and an emotional story skillfully drawn.” —Fashion (Zoe Whittall)
“[Brian Francis’s] prose kept reminding me of Alice Munro, not only in its unfussy precision, but in its constant refusal of easy sentimentality. . . . Very affecting.” —National Post
“In this at once sad and uplifting story, Francis inhabits the mind of an elderly woman episodically remembering her life and coping with her son’s sexuality and early death. . . . The novel is smart enough to complicate Joyce’s dilemmas by addressing not just the constraints of small-town society in the ’50s and ’60s, but also the issues facing seniors today. In a quietly political gesture, Francis makes a compelling commentary on the way seniors are treated in our society.” —Xtra
“Heartfelt and finely told.” —Georgia Straight
“Wonderful.... Francis nails every detail of a small-town mother’s love.” —Kathleen Winter, author of Annabel
“Beautifully written, as affecting as it is convincing. At once funny, touching and fearless, the delicate strands woven between mothers and sons are powerful.” —Anthony De Sa, author of Barnacle Love
“We need more books like this one: alive with a singular pulse, cheeky, honest, achingly tender. This book will syncopate your heart. Brian Francis reminds us to live, and love, bravely. I am still catching my breath.” —Jessica Grant, author of Come, Thou Tortoise
“An extraordinary read. Francis is a master at creating vivid characters. Joyce Sparks is unforgettable. Her touching life story will leave you both hopeful and wiser.” —Neil Smith, author of Bang Crunch
“In Natural Order, Brian Francis gets it all—the sharp, to-the-bone wit of people with no time left to waste, plus compassion for difficult characters who, out of love, misunderstanding and fear, have made each other’s lives harder to bear. A feat of humane literary empathy.” —Joan Barfoot, author of Exit Lines
"Honest, tender and mesmerizing, Brian Francis' Natural Order is a must-read." —Ami McKay, author of The Birth House
“I was much moved by Natural Order.... Here is a writer of quality, a storyteller with a deep sensitivity that challenges and enriches his readers." —Wayson Choy, author of Not Yet