ELLEN IN PIECES by Caroline Adderson

It’s hard not to love Ellen, the central character in Caroline Adderson’s new novel. She’s cranky, 48, not a fashion model. She has problematic kids, a suicidal dad, odd friends, a messily ongoing divorce, tons of regrets and unquenchable hope. She even gets to have a wonderful much younger lover, if only for a while. One of my favourite scenes in the book contains a moment of revelation not unlike the one I described in Edward St. Aubyn’s At Last. But while Patrick Melrose’s moment occurs in the garden of a rehab centre, Adderson’s Ellen breaks through in the unlikeliest of places: the dentist’s chair. When, after a horrifically frustrating afternoon of trying and failing to perfect the creation of ceramic anuses (“It’s a mystery how art happens”), Ellen sobs herself empty, then while blearily making tea, notices a dental appointment on her calendar. She rushes to get there, “thinking that the life behind her showed like a dirty slip”. But instead she finds herself in the care of a lovely young hygienist who compliments Ellen on the consistency of her saliva. This small kindness blossoms into a moment of epiphany, which, as Ellen explains shortly thereafter to the lifer clerk at the liquor store, is “Halfway between an orgasm and an epileptic seizure.” Adderson’s irreverence leavens the seriousness of the darker aspects of this narrative. A fine read, and Canadian too. Book clubbers take note!