A quirky, thrilling, darkly-funny page-turner that explores the fuzzy lines between sanity and insanity, magic and reality, love and duty.
It’s 1969. An eight-year-old girl, Elizabeth Squire, has a choice to make: to be disabled by the circumstances of her own botched birth or to become extraordinary.
In Buffy Cram’s captivating new novel, Elizabeth narrates the story of her childhood in the late sixties, describing how she came to be at a Vancouver halfway house at the age of nineteen. Once Upon an Effing Time chronicles the sometimes-exploitative relationship between Elizabeth and Margaret, her mother, and the bizarre and criminal misadventures they have after running away from Ontario’s cheese belt and their “Big Sad Story.”
Attempting to bond with her neglectful mother, Elizabeth learns to adopt personas and live multiple lives, transforms into a fortune teller named MeMe who speaks primarily in Bob Dylan lyrics, and joins an American hippie doomsday cult. Elizabeth’s life is fragmented between ordinary childhood pleasures and indulging her mother’s conspiracy theories about the upcoming moon landing by hiding pamphlets in New York City Public Library books. Throughout, Buffy Cram weaves humour and heartbreak together to form an engaging narrative about cults—the cult of family, the cult of counterculture, the cult of rock ’n’ roll—and the role of story within those cults.
About the author
Buffy Cram is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, an entrepreneur and a farmer. Reviewing her 2012 book of stories, Radio Belly (Douglas & McIntyre), the Globe and Mail pronounced her “a whip-smart storyteller who aims to shake up our reading expectations in ways that delight.” She has been a fiction finalist for the Western Magazine Awards, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won a National Magazine Award. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and lives on Salt Spring Island, BC.
“In her latest novel, Once Upon an Effing Time, Buffy Cram brings us an unflinching yet tenderly drawn portrait of Elizabeth Squire, both as the devastatingly imperiled girl she once was and the young woman she is now, yearning to be unshackled from a childhood marred by unimaginable loss. A darkly beautiful, deeply intelligent, and deftly crafted tale of heart-rending loss and heart-mending hope that grips, holds, and lingers long.”
Bobbi French, author of <i>The Good Women of Safe Harbour</i>
“Buffy Cram is a writer whose voice radiates uncommon confidence. Cram’s debut novel arrives fully formed. Once Upon an Effing Time is compelling and vividly told, with a narrator to break your heart — and, in her brave search for belonging, to bring you hope. I loved this book.”
Carrie Snyder, author of <i>Francie's Got a Gun</i>
“Where does the bitter magic end and the sweet real life begin in Once Upon an Effing Time? Margaret and Elizabeth will haunt your dreams as you sit in on the journey of their lives: riding an edgy line of danger, rich with the tenuous bonds of mothers and daughters, wild with the grit of staying alive. Buffy takes a broken world and makes stained glass of it, transforming the poverty of everyday life into a pilgrimage so kaleidoscopic you will want to stay on the Far Out bus, if only to keep plumbing the depths of the haunted adventures Buffy has created.”
Ceilidh Michelle, author of <i>Vagabond</i>
“Once Upon an Effing Time may not be a fairytale, but it crackles with a magic-tinged darkness and light of the best of Grimms. Its young hero is a kind of Girl, Interrupted meets Dickens’ Artful Dodger by way of the tumble-down-the-rabbit-hole Alice. Her tender-tough moxie is both heartbreaking and exhilarating, just like Buffy Cram’s debut novel itself.”
Zsuzsi Gartner, Giller finalist for <i>Better Living Through Plastic Explosives</i>, and the Writer’s Trust shortlisted, <i>The Beguiling</i>
“Once Upon an Effing Time is an unforgettable story about a childhood eked out on the margins and a mother-daughter relationship that swings between tenderness, brutality and betrayal. The style is vivid, hallucinatory, and utterly compelling. Buffy Cram has written a remarkable novel about resilience in the face of tragedy.”
Susan Juby, author of <i>Mindful of Murder</i>
Suspenseful circumstances, black humour, catastrophizing characters, and an irreverent attitude mark Buffy Cram’s Once Upon an Effing Time, where the disturbing tension of trying to live up to goodness in a hard world skitters on the surface of every page.
Yasuko Thanh, author of <i>Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains</i>