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Pickle Me This

November 5, 2020

Fake It So Real, by Susan Sanford Blades

One day I’m going to write a list of all my CanLit aversions (among them, the notion of “CanLit” at all), and near the top of the rankings will be Alice Munro as a lazy and meaningless cultural shorthand. Sometimes, though, the comparison fits, and Susan Sanford Blades’ debut, Fake It So Real, is a case where the comparison might be apt.

First, because the book is a novel/story collection hybrid ala Lives of Girls and Women, moving between first and third-person narration. The city of Victoria setting too, and the book’s complicated and messy depiction of motherhood and womanhood, women who chafe at the limits of “wife” and transgress them. Alice Munro, but make it punk? Beginning in the 1980s, as Gwen gets together with a charismatic musician and has kids before he blows out of their life altogether. She struggles to keep it together and mainly doesn’t, unable to quit drinking and wracked with social anxiety. This is not a story of happily ever after, but instead one of hardscrabble and losing, fucking up over and over again. Which doesn’t make for the most compelling argument to read this book, I realize, but it’s also just really really good, crafted with care and precision.

I felt this way when I fell in love with Leona Theis’s If Sylvie Had Nine Lives in September, a book whose effort never shows, whose seams and joints are invisible. It just works, and as a reader, it’s such a pleasure to submit to a book that’s so well constructed. To let it take you where it goes, and this one goes through the decades as Gwen’s daughters, Sara and Meg, make their own way into the world, try to account for their parents’ failures, attempt to make their own families in different ways, inevitably failing to live up to ideals, as one might expect, but I appreciate the way that Blades interrogates motherhood while not evoking the usual cliches. Her characters’ experiences are singular and interesting, and rich and fraught with complication.

Fake It So Real manages to be not a glorification of counterculture or a condemnation of it either. This is not a book that comes with an agenda, except to tell a story of love and family that is achingly real.

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