Book Snap #120

Title: What We Both Know

Author: Fawn Parker

Date Read: January 6, 2023

One and half snaps.

Snapshot of the book

Books as gifts are always delightful, providing a sort of innocuous blind-date excitement. Took this gem along as a roadtrip companion and I really enjoyed it. I was delighted to discover that Fawn Parker is a Canadian writer who splits her time in homes in both Toronto and my city, Fredericton.

Parker tells the story of Hillary Greene : a thirty-something urbanite who leaves her apartment in Toronto and her job at the university (a job she admits to acquiring through nepotism: they rather wanted her famous father to stay on, but upon his retirement the job dutifully became hers)– to live instead in her childhood home, caring for her father as his dementia requires. Besides boiling eggs to his liking, taking him to the market, or to his childhood home for a peculiar visit; she must also write his memoir. A tell-all he’s promised his publisher but cannot write himself. Hillary must sift through his scrambled notes; revisit her own experiences of her parent’s marriage and divorce; and unravel her sister’s suicide to decode how to tell his story– and whose version of it.

The author begins with the following note to readers: this book includes depections of animal death, child abuse (emotional and sexual), self-harm and suicide.

Snapshot of the book in my classroom

I might offer the first paragraph as a Writer’s Notebook passage study, it is such an odd opening, but the explicit detail about how exacting her father is in the tasks she must complete for him is also part of her character building.

The egg is boiled until firm. Rubbery outside and chalky in the middle, a moment before it might form a dark silvery ring around the yolk. The yolk will be removed, a soft almost-sphere, the white disgarded. The egg is boiled on high heat for ten minutes, removed, placed on a paper towel, cooled. A crack is made against the counter, the shell chipped away into the damp paper towel which is bunched then placed in the trash. (p.1)

The passage not only creates a keen sense of sight imagery around the egg; but also is a type of process-writing: a description of steps to follow that could easily be played with in our writer’s notebook. Steps are described, the writer doesn’t offer a numbered list as we are used to, but instead makes clear in prose the order and precise actions of each step. Even the nost mundnae task can be written about playfully and with skill.

Snapshot of the book in my life

When Hillary has to take a meeting with her father’s publisher to update on his progress on his memoir (which she is in fact writing, not him), she tells him:

“I only worry I will regret what I write,” I say.

“When a person does something they regret it’s because they don’t know who they are,” he says. (p.163).

As I age, I am getting more sure of who I am, what’s truly important to me, and what I value. It is a wonderful gift. Knowing who you are will hugely improve your life.