When twenty-two-year-old Marla finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she wishes for a family, but faces precariousness: an uncertain future with her talented, exacting boyfriend, Liam; constant danger from her roommate, Dani, a sometime prostitute and entrenched drug addict; and the unannounced but overwhelming needs of her younger brother, Gavin, whom she has brought home for the first time from deaf school. Forcing her hand is Marla’s fetal alcohol syndrome, which sets her apart but also carries her through.
When Marla loses her job and breaks her arm in a car accident, Liam asks her to marry him. It’s what she’s been waiting for: a chance to leave Dani, but Dani doesn’t take no for an answer. Marla stays strong when her mother shows up drunk, creates her own terms when Dani publicly shames her, and then falls apart when Gavin attempts suicide. It rains, and then pours, and when the Bow River finally overflows, flooding Marla’s entire neighbourhood, she is ready to admit that she wants more for her child than she can possibly give right now. Marla’s courage to ask for help and keep her mind open transforms everyone around her, cementing her relationships and proving to those who had doubted her that having a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder does not make a person any less noble, wise or caring.
About the author:
Jennifer Spruit grew up in Lloydminster, AB/SK, alongside pump jacks, farm machinery, and its endless, sparkling winter sky. Her affair with writing began with a Grade One story about a tractor, but she has since become engaged in writing about people. She studied Creative Writing at UBC and now lives in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island, where she enjoys playing folk and bluegrass, teaching kids, and rowing a blue canoe. Her work has appeared in Arc, The Antigonish Review, Prairie Fire Magazine, and SubTerrain Magazine, among others. A Handbook for Beautiful People is her debut novel. She is currently at work on a second novel.
“…there is a lot going on in A Handbook for Beautiful People, much of it very good. Spruit’s chapter titles (“Ravioli” “Eggplant” “Honeydew”) allude to the growing fetus in a creative way. Marla’s fetal alcohol syndrome manifests itself in myriad behaviours and decisions, something the condition is said to do. It makes her both unpredictable and believable, a good combination. Spruit’s use of point-of-view, which shifts fluidly between different characters, is impressive and regularly means we’ll see scenes unfold in different ways for different people, as we do at a Christmas dinner that takes place in a Chinese restaurant. The novel’s techniques are consistently intriguing.”
“Wonderful, heartfelt, heartbreaking–I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.”
–Annabel Lyon, author of The Sweet Girl
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