At our discussion last week, everyone loved it. We talked about it for so much longer than we usually do that we didn't even have time at the end for our customary round-the-circle sharing of other books we've been reading. Adult Onset is one of my very favourite reads so far this year. Why ever did I wait so long?
It's about a contemporary married lesbian couple. Hilary is away, working on a play in Calgary. Mary Rose - aka MR, aka Mister - is a writer at home in Toronto with their two young children. The challenges inherent in parenting a spirited two-year-old daughter dredge up painful episodes from MR's childhood and early adulthood. Meanwhile, MR's elderly parents are starting to lose their memories.
The novel is packed with cultural landmarks. For example, MR's father sends her an email to congratulate her contribution to the "It Gets Better" online video project in support of queer youth. Readers are treated to MR's internal monologue, presented in close third-person. As she composes a reply, "icebergs are evaporating and falling as rain on her February garden, where a water-boarded tulip has foolishly put its head up - are things getting better or worse?"
Aspects of the relationship between MR and her parents are heartbreaking, yet the part that made me weep is secondary to the main plot. (This isn't a spoiler, even though it is near the end.) It's when MR thanks her friend Gigi for coming when she needed help. Gigi tells her: "We never thought we'd be able to get married. We thought we were out in the cold, so we made the cold into a party, but cold is cold and family is family and you guys are mine."
I sobbed and sobbed, because MacDonald reminded me of how it used to be, back before gays and lesbians had human rights protection in Alberta. I still feel the hurt from when we were shut outside of mainstream Canadian society. When I was interviewed for the Edmonton Queer History Project, one of the things that surprised me was getting choked up about the Delwin Vriend case. There are a number of video clips from this history project available online here.
Adult Onset is funny and devastating and true. It made me feel so much. It has surpassed Fall on Your Knees in my heart, which is saying a lot, because MacDonald's first novel is also dear to me.