A couple years ago, I spent some time in a bookstore aimlessly wandering, trying to find new books to read since everything I seemed to read was Canadian Women Writers, and while there is a good selection, it wasn’t the richest tapestry. I grabbed Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper because I liked the spine design (you can’t judge based on the cover, but can you based on the spine?).
Fast forward a few years and I not wanting to read one of my usual Canadian Women Writers, I grabbed this book. That’s weird, I thought, I didn’t realize it was written by a woman. Wait, is that an endorsement from Maclean’s, the Canadian news magazine?
My interests are SO diverse!
The fragmented narration of this tale makes it a quick read. There are flashbacks, letters and multiple narrators. Primarily, the story follows Etta, who, in her 82nd year, decides to see the ocean. She wakes one night and begins her journey on foot. Otto, her husband, and Russell, her neighbour deal with the fall out of her absence.
It takes a strange turn at the end — Etta’s dementia has her reliving parts of Otto’s life that she wasn’t present for — but is otherwise a good read. The aged woman’s quest for water as she loses her mental faculties and nears death is certainly not a new Canadian trope, but it was refreshing to see it through the perspective of someone who wasn’t generally malicious.