1129 A tale of two sisters
by Roz Nay
Toronto: Simon and Schuster Canada, 2020
$24.99 / 9781501184826
Reviewed by Miranda Marini
Sisters are often described as having a transcendental and unbreakable bond based in their shared experiences, friendship, and love for each other. However, the same cannot be said for the Van Ness sisters in Roz Nay’s latest novel, Hurry Home. Living amidst the Rocky Mountains in the small community of Moses River, Alexandra Van Ness has created a picturesque life for herself. She has a beautiful home, a loving boyfriend, and a job that fulfils her desire to help children in need. By contrast, Ruth Van Ness has been labelled “the family delinquent,” making a series of poor life choices that have affected her and her family. However, when Ruth appears on Alex’s doorstep after ten years of radio silence, the two must confront the trauma and lies of their past as they navigate new challenges in their present.
The novel opens with Alex joining her colleague, Minerva Cummins, on a routine check-in after a report indicates that a child may be in danger of neglect and abandonment. As a social worker with Family Services, Alex takes her job very seriously and is dedicated to saving children in at-risk situations. Visiting the Floyd family and observing their living conditions, Alex could not be more certain that this child, Buster Floyd, is at risk given the “squat and peeling” (p. 11) state of the house, the “bulge” and “tight[ness]” (p. 13) of Buster’s unchanged diaper, and the way Buster’s face is “pressed dangerously against the cheap sponge of the couch cushion” (p. 13) as he sleeps. The Floyds’ history with drugs and addiction does little to help their situation, and Alex is determined to remove Buster from their care. However, Minerva is certain that the Floyds have been taking care of their son to the best of their ability and feels no need to pursue the issue further — a decision that rankles Alex’s sense of justice. Returning to the loft she and Chase, her boyfriend, share, Alex is surprised to find an unwanted visitor on her doorstep — her estranged sister, Ruth Van Ness.
The reason for their estrangement is revealed over the course of the novel, but it boils down to their shared trauma, the lies built around that trauma, and Ruth’s trouble-making past. As an adolescent, Ruth went through a rebellious phase, dating unsavoury men and dabbling in recreational drugs. Despite “be[ing] clean for years and years” (p. 36), Ruth has found herself in a bit of trouble. To protect her unborn child and to escape her abusive relationship with Eli Beck, Ruth flees to Moses River in search of her long-lost sister, carrying nothing but a duffle bag. Based on Ruth’s checkered past and previous drug habits, Alex fully expected her sister to be dead — an inaccurate assumption, to her surprise — and, instead, discovers that she is very much alive. Reluctantly, Alex and Chase allow Ruth to live with them while she figures out her next step, unaware that Ruth hides a dark secret. Inside the only bag she brought with her is a plastic Folgers coffee tin filled with bags of cocaine and rolls of money — stolen from her abusive ex-boyfriend as insurance. Concealing this fact from Alex and Chase, Ruth is allowed to live with the happy couple with one, major stipulation: Ruth can’t “talk about [their childhood]. Not with [Alex, her younger sister]. And more important, not with Chase. Ever” (pp. 55-56). However, as lies begin to unravel and events are set in motion, both sisters are in jeopardy of losing what they love most and of having to deal with the consequences in the aftermath.
With the Floyd case proving to be more difficult than expected and with Eli Beck searching for his stolen property, Alex and Ruth find that their lies are slowly catching up to them. Roz Nay has employed an alternating first-person narrative between Alex and Ruth Van Ness, offering the reader misleading insight into past and present events. However, as the story develops, the reader realises that the narrators’ memories and perceptions of certain situations may not be reliable or trustworthy. Stemming from the loss of their younger brother during their childhood, both Alex and Ruth have found ways to blame each other for their misfortunes and the challenges they have faced throughout their adolescence and adulthood. For instance, Alex believes that “[a]ny mistakes [she] made, Ruth was at their very centre” (p. 35) as Ruth is a “virus” (p. 33) — “that kid who borrows a toy and gives it back broken” (p. 32). However, Ruth argues that Alex’s choices “made sure that [Ruth] could never come back to [their] family. One lie, and she sealed [Ruth’s] fate forever” (p. 129). Their prejudices, biases, and lies have manipulated their perceptions of reality, and the lines between truth and untruth are complicatedly blurred, leaving the reader to decipher these complex relationships.
A national bestseller and winner of the Douglas Kennedy Prize for her debut novel, Our Little Secret, Roz Nay has, once again, captured readers’ attentions with her latest psychological thriller. Hurry Home is a twisted tale, delving into the difficult subject matter of strained relationships, shared trauma, and social (in)justice, and it speaks to the unreliability of the first-person narrative. Not only do these characters hide the truth from each other but from themselves as well, and the reader progressively realises the unreliability of the story’s narrator, wondering who, in fact, is telling the truth. In an attempt to remain painstakingly vague, I have opted to conceal certain events of the novel to allow new readers to determine the validity and reliability of the Van Ness sisters’ stories on their own. Roz Nay weaves an intriguing narrative based in secrecy and lies, and readers will be shocked when the truth is revealed.
Born and raised in Kamloops, Miranda Marini teaches at Thompson Rivers University in the English and Modern Languages Department, where she pursues her interests in British Columbian and Canadian Literature. Academically, her interests include ethnobotanical relationships and interactions between human and non-human environments, particularly in relation to the representations of place, space, and landscapes in British Columbia and Canada. When she isn’t busy teaching, she can usually be found working on various poems, short stories, essays, and novels – all forthcoming — in addition to spending time with her three dogs: Walle, Levi, and Marley. Editor’s note: Miranda Marini has also reviewed a book by Winona Kent for The Ormsby Review.
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