By Angie Abdou. Arsenal Pulp, 304 pp, softcover
The opening third of Angie Abdou’s novel Between offers an alluring study in contrasts.
The story begins with 40-something Vero, a Caucasian woman juggling unfulfilled dreams, a so-so job, rowdy young boys, marital middles and lows, memories of her mother’s tart advice over the years, and supremely annoying in-laws with whom she spends a miserable, drunken Christmas in Mexico.
In counterpoint to the Vero-centric chunks, Ligaya is the subject of notably smaller chapters. A caregiver for the child of heartless and demanding Madam Poon in Hong Kong, Ligaya slaves away while recalling the rich-but-poor life she left behind in rural Philippines (family, boyfriend, children) and counting the days until she’s able to work in Canada. There, she imagines, she’ll save enough money to help her family and spearhead their immigration to a New World location she envisions as the land of opportunity.
Overwhelmed and on the verge but reluctant to take part in the suspect nanny economy, Vero reluctantly agrees to a trial run. The instantaneous change wrought by Ligaya (renamed LiLi by one of her new employer’s boys) brings peace to the kingdom for a short while. But in Abdou’s hands culture clash is a stretch of bumpy-then-twisty path, and deep familial discord cannot be repaired by outsourcing.
Fernie-based Abdou opts for an unexpected switch in dynamic when she sets Vero and her husband, Shane, on a getaway week. Amusing in and of itself, the comical subplot nonetheless introduces a questionable change of tone and focus.
While LiLi minds the boys in Sprucedale (a suburban sketch of a town reminiscent of Mapleton in Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, a comfortable if generic North American anyplace), Vero and Shane—for whom the misery quotient and squabbles have grown worrisome—jet to a tropical paradise. Shane promises Vero that the trip to a Caribbean swingers’ resort called Hedonism will be a “real adventure”, but after the week and two lengthy chapters of couples-retreat comedy, they both realize a) their distinct limitations and b) the true significance of the “wild” vacation.
A return home marked by mental and physical dissolution (and a quirky left-field reformulation) brings Vero and Ligaya to a new and equitable understanding. With that qualified optimism, Abdou highlights the potential rewards of trying something new.
Angie Abdou will appear at the Vancouver Writers Fest on October 25 and 26. See the Vancouver Writers Fest website for details.