cover image A Funny Kind of Paradise

A Funny Kind of Paradise

Jo Owens. Random House Canada, $16.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-0-7352-7882-0

Owens’s affecting debut centers on a stubborn, dying patient at “a facility, an institution, a so-called extended care hospital.” Frannie is a stroke survivor unable to move, speak, or eat on her own but who nevertheless lives more-or-less comfortably with four other elderly patients and copious care. The narrative takes the form of an imagined letter Frannie composes to her best friend, Anna, who died from cancer a few years earlier. A sharp observer, Frannie reports on things said by other patients, their family members, and the care aides. Frannie also divulges to Anna about her former life as a hardworking but closed-off accountant and single mother to two children—loving, stable Chris and wild-child Angelina. After seeing Chris, who visits but maintains his emotional distance, Frannie begins to reconsider her cold behavior toward Angelina, who disappeared as a teenager. In sifting through her difficult memories, Frannie regretfully realizes she was not the mother she should have been. Owens’s believable, touching portrait of Frannie and the loving care of her aides is loaded with moments of beauty amid the swirl of regret and nostalgia: “I got to show you how much I loved you before I lost you, and that was a gift.” These powerful final reflections of an irascible, regretful patient illustrate the unremarkable yet profound experience of nearing death. (Mar.)