Clara Purdy, 43 and spinsterish, makes an ill-advised left turn on a summer day in Saskatoon and crashes into a Dodge Dart carrying a family in dire straits — homeless, it turns out, and the mother gravely ill. From this clichéd collision with fate, Clara, a practising Anglican, feels compelled to take the family into her home. And so, the painful expansion of her soul begins.
Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault, nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, is wise, funny and observant, a spellbinding drama of domestic details woven with theological threads.
As Clara becomes the impromptu mother of three children and the caretaker of their cantankerous grandmother, her painstakingly ordered life gives way to barely managed mayhem. A makeshift community forms, and through the eyes of its various members — among them the street-wise nine-year-old Dolly, the irrepressible Rev. Paul Tippet and the efficient Clara — we witness their day-to-day journeys on the various trajectories between life and death, order and chaos, protection and abandonment, and grace and oblivion.
Through Clara, we experience the gritty, grimy and downright uncomfortable places we can find ourselves if we choose to enter wholeheartedly into human relationships. Clara is advised more than once that she has gone too far. But slowly, miraculously, amid this unplanned upheaval, everyone begins to get what they need. We are challenged with the big questions: How do we go through this life? What do we give away? What do we withhold?
Good to a Fault is a brave book. When Christianity is so seemingly out of fashion, Endicott shows that the religion’s age-old images and issues are decidedly relevant in a contemporary context. More importantly, it’s possible that Good to a Fault provides a glimpse of the glorious and holy mess that just might be the kingdom of God.
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