Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

Good to a Fault

by Marina Endicott

If an insurance agent causes a car accident, what’s her liability? At first blush, it sounds like a bad joke. Yet it’s this question of liability and damages – automotive, spiritual, and otherwise – that drives Marina Endicott’s warm and witty second novel. One day, disappointed, middle-aged Clara Purdy takes a dreamy turn in her car and ends up plowing into the lives of the Gage family. Two parents, three kids, and one cranky grandmother are heading from one no-luck town to the next when Clara totals their vehicle/home on a Saskatoon road. Everyone emerges alive and mostly unhurt, but no sooner are they all checked into the hospital than young mom Lorraine is diagnosed with late-stage lymphoma.

Clara knows she is at fault in the accident, and, in a moment of guilt-saturated compassion, she offers to house the homeless family while Lorraine struggles in the hospital. Soon, the kids’ troubled dad skips town in his host’s car, and Clara’s low-impact, nine-to-five life in the suburbs is transformed into heady, noisy chaos. Childless and parentless, she is initially overwhelmed, but soon begins to welcome the messy intrusion into her quiet bungalow. With her stoic defences at an all-time low, love – for both her instant family and a poetry-loving Anglican priest – barges into Clara’s life.

With abundant happiness and tragedy on hand, the story occasionally dips into sentimentality, and it’s more quiet and honest than thrilling or surprising. Nevertheless, Good to a Fault is utterly engaging. With a theatrical sensibility, Endicott, an established playwright and dramaturge, beautifully illuminates the interior lives and stunted interactions of her cast of struggling strangers – all of whom, it turns out, are perfect fits for the mysterious holes in one another’s lives.

Told in time to the steady, poignant pulse of domestic life, and with sharp observations and characters so vulnerable they’re impossible not to care about, this is a novel that gets under the skin.