Anita Kushwaha’s follow-up to her 2018 award-winning first novel (and 2020 longlist nominee) Side by Side is Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters (HarperCollins Canada). It is a generational story of — you guessed it — mothers and daughters and the secrets that they keep from each other, whether it is keeping an adoption secret from an adult child, holding a pregnancy secret, an office affair or any other sort of confidence kept out of love or perceived duty, they are all here in Ms. Kushwaha’s 380-page novel that is practically flawless. Excellent writing, good editing, plot twists, drama and numerous allusions to Jane Eyre make SLOMAD a compelling read.
“In that hopeless moment, Mala recalled what Helen Burns had told Jane: that it was better to endure the consequences of your actions than have those consequences extend to all connected with you.”
Therein lies the embodiment of the theme of SLOMAD: enduring the consequences. One small action (or inaction) has so many consequences that come along behind it, like the dust and debris stirred up by a strong gust of wind.
Note: I am purposely not delving into the book’s plot so as not to create any spoilers!
As I was reading SLOMAD, an old song by Graham Parker, “Love Gets You Twisted”, popped into my head:
Love gets you twisted
Love gets you twisted all the way
The hearts are enlisted
The hearts are enlisted to break each day
I try to straighten out
But I’m too wrapped up to see
I don’t know how it’s supposed to be
It is love that twists the priorities, responsibilities and morals of Ms. Kushwaha’s characters. They get so wrapped up in misguided lies that hearts are broken, and no one escapes unscathed, least of all the two main female protagonists, Mala (whose true love is already in a relationship) and Asha (who, on her eighteenth birthday is informed that she is adopted, shattering her world). Ms. Kushwaha has the inherent ability to develop a character from the inside out; little mention is made of outward appearances (aside from those of the prime male characters). Rather, her style (as so clearly demonstrated in Side by Side) is the psychical development of the personas, delving into their innermost thoughts and fears so that each person is solidly established in our reading memory.
Surely, SLOMAD is a novel that will do well on the 2020 CanLit scene. For me, the enjoyment of reading Ms. Kushwaha’s writing is not so much the storyline as it is the purposeful, thorough unravelling of each person’s life as the secrets come out, as they inevitably do. In fact, in order to finish it, I arose at 4:00 am one morning so that I didn’t have to wait until evening to see how it all ends. Ms. Kushwaha is clearly a writer to watch. As Ms. Kushwaha already has a book on “The Very Best!” Book Awards for 2020, I am slapping a “Pick” sticker on the cover of Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters. Five stars!
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