by Anne Giardini (Fourth Estate, 2005, $27.95)
Set in the cities and small towns of Canada, "The Sad Truth About Happiness" is a young woman’s quest for home. Each chapter of Anne Giardini’s first novel is named after, and built upon, a detail of her narrator’s emotional house (pantry, gate, spare room etc.).
Maggie Selgrin is a single, 32 year old urban professional, trying to navigate her way through the last four complicated months of 1999 with the help and hindrance of friends, family, suitors, spirit-guides and foes. The first half of the novel is relaxed and methodical, hinting at an underlying angst about the lack of meaningful connection in Maggie’s life.
The second half builds momentum, with thrilling twists and turns, as Maggie, her roommate Rebecca, and an assortment of female accomplices, act out a biblical morality tale to protect an endangered infant (her temporarily adopted, abducted nephew). Maggie moves from too little connection to an abundance of it, not surprisingly, in the week before Christmas.
This sounds quite busy, but Giardini’s story-telling is considerate of the reader with its lovely characters, vivid settings and dramatic dialogue. I hope the second novel is not far away.