Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Age by Nancy Lee

The brink of nuclear war in 1984 fuels a Vancouver high school girl's rocky coming-of-age in Nancy Lee's urgent novel, The Age. Gerry is angry and restless. She ingratiates herself into a group of older anarchists who are planning a dangerous mission. Unrequited sexual attractions to both women and men keep Gerry feeling unsettled and awkward. She lashes out at everyone, including her divorced mother.

Gerry longs for contact with her estranged father. Her mother appeases her with a rare anecdote, one about their honeymoon:

"We were in the Rockies, in Banff. Your dad and I were walking together down the main street, looking in the shop windows, enjoying all the touristy stuff, and along comes this grizzly bear. Not a real bear, mind you, but a man dressed in a bear suit. [...] And he grabs hold of your dad and starts dancing with him, waltzing him around the sidewalk. Well your dad is mortified but trying to look like he's enjoying it. And I'm laughing and clapping and wishing we owned a camera so I could take a picture because no one would believe this was happening, especially to your father. Then all of a sudden the bear stops and just wanders off down the street, I guess to look for some other tourists to entertain. A few blocks later, your dad realizes his wallet is gone, all of our wedding money."

Meanwhile, there is a second narrative running parallel to Gerry's story. It is set in the same place, but in a bleak possible-future, after a nuclear apocalypse.

Family ties are at the heart of both narratives. Gerry muses on "The clueless tragedy of being a parent. Her own mom saddled with a daughter who has brought her only sadness." Gerry's recklessness may prevent her from ever realizing the extent of her mother's fierce love.

Readalikes: Hey, Nostradamus (Douglas Coupland); Any Empire (Nate Powell); The Sky is Falling (Caroline Adderson) and Inferno (Robin H. Stevenson).

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