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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

The Erratics

A Memoir

by (author) Vicki Laveau-Harvie

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2020
Personal Memoirs, Dysfunctional Families, Aging
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2020
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2021
    List Price

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In this award-winning memoir, two sisters reckon with the convalescence and death of their outlandishly tyrannical mother and the care of their psychologically terrorized father, all relayed with dark humour and brutal honesty.

When Vicki and her sister learn their mother has been hospitalized for a broken hip, they return to their parents' home in Alberta to put things back in order. Though their parents disowned them years before, the sisters now reassert themselves in the dysfunctional household: their father, undernourished and suffering from Stockholm syndrome, is unable to see that he is in danger from his outlandish and vindictive wife. Rearranging their lives to be the daughters they were never allowed to be, the sisters focus their efforts on helping their father cope with the unending manipulations of their mother, and must encounter all the characters common in the circus of caretaking--oddball nurses and home helpers; over-opinionated hospital staff who have fallen for their mother's compulsive lies--along with the pressures that come with caring for elderly loved (and sometimes unloved) ones.

Set against the natural world of remotest Alberta ("in winter the cold will kill you, nothing personal"), this memoir--at once dark and hopeful--shatters precedents about grief, anger and family trauma with surprising tenderness and humour.

About the author

Contributor Notes

VICKI LAVEAU-HARVIE was born in Canada, and lived for many years in France before settling in Australia. In France, she worked as a translator and a business editor, despite being a specialist in eighteenth-century French literature. In Sydney, she lectured in French Studies at Macquarie University. After retiring, she taught ethics in a primary school. The Erratics won the 2018 Finch Memoir Prize and was the winner of the 2019 Stella Prize. She has also won prizes for short fiction and poetry.

Editorial Reviews

"A searing, brilliantly-written memoir about a cunning and destructive mother; reads like a novel." —Margaret Atwood, via Twitter

"Deeply poignant and darkly humorous." —The Sydney Morning Herald

"Somehow, despite the dark subject matter, this book has a smile at its core, and Laveau-Harvie shows constant wit when depicting some harrowing times. The narrative is brimming with honesty, the narrator somehow manages to see all viewpoints, and we are rewarded with an evocative and expansive view of a family that has more than its fair share of dysfunction." —Australia's Stella Prize Judge’s Report

"Piercing, honest and oddly hilarious." —The Globe and Mail

"Laveau-Harvie tells the story with laugh-out-loud humor, and tremendous heart and insight. She has a poet’s gift for language, a playwright’s sense of drama and a stand-up comic’s talent for timing. But perhaps most remarkable is the generosity of spirit with which she writes about family trauma . . . Laveau-Harvie does not take herself too seriously, and by holding the reins of her story lightly, she gives us the ride of our lives. The book flows with kinetic energy, wit and wisdom. Upon reaching the last page, I found myself turning to the beginning and starting again, not wanting it to end . . . Laveau-Harvie’s book truly stays with the reader, for the quality of her original and powerful narrative voice." —Helen Fremont, The New York Times Book Review

"Curiously mesmerizing . . . an outlier in its genre. Think of the vivid portraits of the confounding mothers in Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? and Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? . . . Laveau-Harvie depicts her mother neither as a riddle to be solved nor as a woman to be understood, but as an implacable act of nature, who must only be survived." —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

"Atmospheric . . . The result—the rare memoir unobsessed with memories—is sometimes infuriating but always enthralling." —The New Yorker

"Wit and generosity seep through the poised prose . . . Laveau-Harvie fathoms the heart’s reserves of both ruthlessness and vulnerability." —The Economist

"A beautifully crafted, unblinkingly honest, often darkly funny lament for a loving family that never was . . . an unflinching and empathetic memoir of the collision between past trauma and new outrage, dotted with precious moments of rueful levity and fleeting beauty." —Linda M. Castellitto, BookPage (Starred) 

"After learning that a fall had landed her elderly, 'mad as a meat-ax' mother in the hospital . . . This riveting book explores family relationships with a darkly humorous ferocity that is both remarkable and eloquent. A poignant, unsparing, often poetic memoir." —Kirkus
"Two adult sisters return to their childhood home in Canada to pick up the pieces of their shattered family in Laveau-Harvie’s eloquent debut . . . [a] well-constructed, fluent memoir." Publishers Weekly

"With moments of tenderness, The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie evokes the Canadian winter and the trauma of living with a manipulative parent. . . . While Laveau-Harvie's warmth and good humour came across, her book sounded like misery memoir. But no. Her agile humour—albeit of the gallows variety—transforms it into something quite of its own genre." —The Guardian (Australia)
"Laveau-Harvie has packed a lifetime of hurt, confusion and disorientation into this slim volume. Words have layers: seemingly innocuous questions can unearth complex trauma. . . . Humour animates the narrative of The Erratics . . . and sustains Laveau-Harvie's hope." —Sydney Review of Books

"A sharp gemstone of a book, both moving and darkly funny, about a daughter trying her best to love her very, very difficult mother." —David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife

"The Erratics grabbed me by the throat and never let go. Its sharp vinegary tone added a thrilling and bracing note to this portrayal of an extreme dysfunctional family. The writing has a visceral quality as well as a terrific sense of timing, irony and place—an unfamiliar and remote location far removed from Australia, but the author's tug back to Australia from this cold, inhospitable setting adds another dimension of contrast. There is a universality to the story, of ageing parents and conflicted children grappling with uncomfortable responsibilities. I loved it." —Caroline Baum, author of Only
"If someone had told me this manuscript was by a young Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro, I wouldn't have been surprised. The bleak beauty of the Canadian landscape set against this wry memoir of a daughter's journey with her sister through their parents' decline into ill-health and dementia is an extraordinary read." —Candida Baker

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