I mean, it won the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for humour, I had heard him interviewed several times on a couple of great CBC radio programs and Cole was also writer in residence at McMaster a few years ago, likely had been working on this novel while he was haunting the halls of the Department of English and Cultural Studies and helping local writers with their own projects.
This book had long been on my "to read" list but I still hadn't picked it up. I finally ended up reading the NetGalley version of the book on my ereader - this was in anticipation of the Harper Collins US release of the book. (In Canada, the book is published by Mclelland & Stewart - a subsidiary of Random House Canada)
|Harper Collins US cover|
|M&S Canadian cover|
There is a beautiful flashback scene to Jean as a little girl being forced by her mother to practice euthanasia on a pack of puppies which helps paint for the reader how Jean's view of the world can be painted.
Cole brilliantly pulls off this morbid tale of a house-wife gone mad and beginning a serial-killer string of activities. The novel is, at once disturbing and hilarious. There is a fine balance kept whereby the dark humour doesn't overshadow the story and characters, nor do the graphic scenes of murder detract from the emotional plunge Jean is going through.
It is both amazing and disturbing to see the woman justify her every action, to ensure that her plan is practical and generous; to see how she is sacrificing so much of her own life and her own needs in order to do the best she can be the people she loves most.
So, while the novel is filled to the brim with a morbid humour, Cole manages to pull back, just enough and at the right times, to illustrate a main character whom we can empathize with. And yet, at the same time, we offer a guilty chuckle at her exploits. We want to laugh at her but also cry in her pain.
This is a masterfully executed story and novel that, so many times could have devolved into a schlocky over-the-top series of dark humour jokes; but Cole demonstrates the precise skill of a surgeon in terms of being able to steer the prose, story and Jean's very character away from that path at exactly the right moments.