The Erratics: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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"...a searing, brilliantly-written memoir about a destructive and cunning mother; reads like a novel..." --Margaret Atwood via Twitter
In this award-winning memoir, two sisters reckon with the decline and death of their outlandishly tyrannical mother and with the care of their psychologically terrorized father, all relayed with dark humor and brutal honesty.
When her elderly mother is hospitalized unexpectedly, Vicki Laveau-Harvie and her sister travel to their parents' ranch home in Alberta, Canada, to help their father. Estranged from their parents for many years, they are horrified by what they discover on their arrival. For years their mother has camouflaged her manic delusions and savage unpredictability, and over the decades she has managed to shut herself and her husband away from the outside world, systematically starving him and making him a virtual prisoner in his own home.
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 encounter all the pressures that come with caring for elderly parents. And at every step they have to contend with their mother, whose favorite phrase during their childhood was: "I'll get you and you won't even know I'm doing it."
Set against the natural world of the Canadian foothills ("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 humor.
About the Author
VICKI LAVEAU-HARVIE was born in Canada but 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.
“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.”
—Alex McClintock, The Globe and Mail
“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.”
“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."
“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)
"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.”