The Erratics, by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

Vicki Laveau-Harvie got the call that she’s been dreading for years. Except, the call is not exactly the same one that other adult children dread. Laveau-Harvie’s elderly mother has just broken her hip. She’s alive and Laveau-Harvie has to go back to the town she fled years ago, and the incredibly toxic family that caused her flight. The Erratics contains the story of what happened after that call, as Laveau-Harvie and her sister spring into action to care for their stubborn, damaged parents.

No names are mentioned in The Erratics. The characters are so strongly drawn that they don’t really need names beyond the narrator’s pronoun, the sister, the father, and the mother. The narrator shows herself to be ambivalent at best and fearful at worst at the thought of returning to Canada. The sister is the kind of person who deals with everything with furious activity. The father has been so beaten down by his wife’s abuse that he is a passive object to be taken care of by his daughters and hired caretakers. The mother is an incendiary character whose brief appearances in the narrative confirm the narrator’s memories of her tumultuous, frightening, erratic childhood.

A glacial erratic is a chunk of rock that was moved miles out of its original position by glacial ice that has since retreated. Like that glacier, Laveau-Harvie was moved miles out of her original location by the unstoppable force that was her mother. Laveau-Harvie shares pieces of memory—such as the time her mother suddenly cut off her ponytail—with new crimes she found out later—her mother’s spending of the family nest egg and near starvation of the father—to explain her own position on her parents. Even years later, it isn’t hard to see the stamp of her mother on Laveau-Harvie’s character.

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more of this kind of literature: memoirs about dealing with parents as they decline. There are memoirs by adult survivors of childhood abuse but books like The Erratics take that story a bit further as Laveau-Harvie, as an adult survivor, is suddenly expected to take charge of her parents’ property and make decisions about housing parents that need full-time care. The only other book that kind of comes close was the delightfully prickly, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. I felt for Laveau-Harvie from that first dreaded phone call. I don’t think I would have had the courage to go back to Canada, to leave a safe harbor for a place where we have to confront the fact that we suddenly have to parent our own parents.

Strongly recommended for readers who like stories about dysfunctional families.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

Big Rock, Okotoks erratic field, Canada, near where The Erratics is set (Image via Wikicommons)

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