Life on the Refrigerator Door
I had heard mid-summer about six weeks before its Canadian release date that Alice Kuipers’ novel was the buzz of the season among the “literati”. Word is there was a bidding war, word is international publishers and editors were losing their sh-t and very keen to acquire the rights. Several I’d spoken to who had read the manuscript said it was surprising and touching and impressive.
So it goes without saying, the expectations were high. Too high. Unfairly so.
It’s so much more rewarding going into a book without the assumption that it’s going to change your life, you know what I mean? Like last week when I picked up Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, thinking a great mindless teen read on vacay would pass the time nicely, not knowing that such shameless, borderline Harlequin cheese would render me desperate for more and quivering over a literary vampire. (review to come next week).
Looking back, I wonder if it would have been different with Life on the Refrigerator Door.
And that is not to say it was a disappointment. Not at all. It is worth your read, absolutely. Just don’t go into thinking it’ll be the next ______.
The concept is clever: the entire novel consists of notes left on the refrigerator door between mom and young daughter. The theme is timeless: that special bond between mother and child, the spaces created by careers and adolescence and, let’s face it, by selfishness, and the love in the end that endures, unshaken by tragedy and honoured by memory.
Kuipers uses few words to create the context and as such, allows you to fill in your own details so that the story becomes part hers, part yours. In those deliberate information gaps, what fleshes out the rest is what you yourself put into in. For me, my parents were divorced during those years as a teen, but I do remember bailing on my father for a first date and being burdened with guilt the next morning when my lunch was packed and he’d already left for work.
I also remember regretting not being there for my mother when her kidneys failed. I remember choosing a boy over sitting with her at dialysis. I remember for a time only visiting her once every three or four days. I remember her face as I left the house – lonely and scared and angry but unwilling to ask me to stop my life just because hers could be stopped soon.
It’s a testament to Kuipers’ enormous skill that she can evoke this reaction with such spare and subtle writing.
I am jealous.
However, just a heads up, the book is a very, very quick read. Forty five minutes…tops. Because it’s just the notes, you see. And everything else sinks in later. Given that it’s likely only available in hardcover right now, you’re paying almost 20 bucks for less than an hour’s actual reading. If that bothers you, you might want to share. Just saying.
Finally… there is no doubt Hollywood will be all over this. All over it. Maybe already. And while it would be an excellent, not to mention lucrative, opportunity for Alice Kuipers, at the same time, you just know it’ll be Hayden Panettiere in the lead role. Which then turns it into an after school special. It’s like sh-tting on a legacy. Terrible idea.
But Laura Linney as the mom? She’d be wonderful. Oscar bait too.
PS. A few interesting but inconsequential details: Alice Kuipers moved to Saskatoon. Her partner is Yann Martel. Many of you probably know him from Life of Pi, a book everyone else and their eyebrow stylist loved to pieces…