In this novel, “so beautifully written and so full of wisdom” (Quill & Quire, starred review), six strangers at low points in their lives seek solace and connection, and find hope and the surprising potential of second chances
Hazzley is at loose ends, even three years after the death of her husband. When her longtime friend Cassandra, café owner and occasional dance-class partner, suggests that she start up a conversation group, Hazzley posts a notice on the community board at the local grocery store. Four people turn up for the first meeting: Gwen, a recently widowed retiree in her early sixties, who finds herself pet-sitting a cantankerous parrot; Chiyo, a forty-year-old fitness instructor who cared for her unyielding but gossip-loving mother through the final days of her life; Addie, a woman pre-emptively grieving a close friend who is seriously ill; and Tom, an antiques dealer and amateur poet who, deprived of home baking since becoming a widower, comes to the first meeting hoping cake will be served. Before long, they are joined by Allam, a Syrian refugee with his own story to tell.
These six strangers are learning that beginnings can be possible at any stage of life. But as they tell their stories, they must navigate what is shared and what is withheld. Which version of the truth will be revealed? Who is prepared to step up when help is needed? This moving, funny and deeply empathic new novel from acclaimed author Frances Itani reminds us that life, with all its twists and turns, never loses its capacity to surprise.
About the author
Besides her two previous books of poetry (No Other Lodgings, Fiddlehead, 1978 and Rentee Bay, Quarry, 1983), Frances Itani has published a children's book and co-authored a book of short stories. More recently, Frances Itani, a Member of the Order of Canada, had a spectacular international debut with her first novel, Deafening, which received a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean Region) and was shortlisted for the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; it was a #1 bestseller in Canada. Her second novel, Remembering The Bones, was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Itani’s short story collection, Poached Egg On Toast, won the 2005 Ottawa Book Award and the 2005 CAA Jubilee Award for Short Stories. Itani lives in Ottawa.
“Itani's company is Always Worth Keeping but this new set of characters is grieving in surprising and diverse and sometimes embarrassing ways, and doing it so wholeheartedly and experimentally, that I jumped into the group of them for good and keeps. This is a book that brings comfort and joy.” — Linda Spalding, Governor General’s Award-winning author of The Purchase
“The Company We Keep is a multifaceted meditation on the living world of grief, starting with the irony of its title. With her characteristic compassion and gentle humour, Frances Itani brings us to Hazzley’s Grief Discussion Group, where we learn that grief assumes many guises – and isn’t always for the departed.” — Wayne Grady, author of Up From Freedom
“This charming, uplifting portrait of strangers brought together by loss is a testament to the common roots of our suffering. Itani’s writing is familiar in all the best ways – cozy and comforting, like a letter from an old friend. Like grief itself, it leads us to unexpected and tender places.” — Dr. Jillian Horton, author of We Are All Perfectly Fine
“Frances Itani leads us away from a raucous world of politics and plagues in this insightful examination of lives left ragged by the surprising complexity of grief.” — Linden MacIntyre, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of The Bishop’s Man and The Wake
Praise for That's My Baby: “Itani writes with a quiet grace, an acute attention to detail and a keen, empathic awareness of things not said, of secrets and hidden emotional truths… the beauty and force of the novel cannot be denied.” — Toronto Star
“Itani’s prose is seductive … That’s My Baby is a satisfying offering by an author who never fails to delight.” — Quill & Quire
“Itani's vivid storytelling, infused with music and seamless historical detail, reveals how memory, no matter how imperfect, can shape the person we believe ourselves to be.” — CBC Books
“A poignant story of love and sacrifice . . . . This is yet another unforgettable novel from a Canadian literary icon.” — Winnipeg Free Press
Praise for Tell: “Masterful … To read Tell is to drop seamlessly into the lives of [characters] so vivid and well drawn readers will celebrate their victories and cry alongside their anguish … An enthralling reminder of the toll the war – and all wars – take, not only on the soldiers but on the families who keep faith on the home front.” — Toronto Star
“Gravely beautiful… Itani’s prose is at its best in her lyrical descriptions of landscape… The historical research behind the novel is impeccable.” — New York Times
“Tell is a treasure: serious with humorous moments, potent and controlled, subtle yet deeply moving.” — Shortlisted for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize - Jury Citation
“A heart-wrenching story of hope and sacrifice, of human error and unconventional healing, in which the characters must test the strength of their love for one another in order to break free from the shadows of the past.” — Chatelaine
“A wonderful story, with a richly detailed sense of time and place, and compelling characters who, ultimately, all have secrets to tell.” — Winnipeg Free Press