The Truth About Luck – Iain Reid

I have been eager to get a copy of Iain Reid’s new book so when I received a review edition from House of Anansi – a surprise, and a great one at that – I was ecstatic and did not wait to jump into the story. Reid’s previous book, One Bird’s Choice was one of my favourite reads of 2010 and my expectations were sky-high for The Truth About Luck. It rocks! Hard!

From the book’s description:

9781770892415_1024x1024 In The Truth about Luck, Iain Reid, author of the highly popular coming-of-age memoir One Bird’s Choice, accompanies his grandmother on a five-day vacation — which turns out to be a “staycation” at his basement apartment in Kingston. While the twenty-eight-year-old writer is at the beginning of his adult life, his ninety-two-year-old grandmother is nearing the end of hers. Between escorting his grandma to local attractions and restaurants, the two exchange memories and she begins to reveal details of her inspiring life story.
Told with subtlety, humour, and heart, this delightful comic memoir reflects on family connections; how we experience adversity, the passage of time, and aging; and most importantly what it truly means to feel lucky.

 

Sometimes you read a book and it is something you connect with so personally and deeply it can become nearly impossible to detach from it to assess or review in a constructive way. That happened with this amazing book. But, I have been thinking about it for a few days now and I feel – my personal attachment wrestled off to the side – the strength of Reid’s writing – the flow of the story and his ability to make us curious and really care about what he and his grandma are up to – make this book totally worth its 5-star rating.

Web_Reid_slideshow_01Along with some eerie similarities between Reid and I (hello worry, anxiety and writerly lifestyle you crazy trifecta, you), our grandmothers are very similar women. Both were born in the U.K. (his in Scotland, mine in England (in 1917) but with her family she moved to Scotland very early on in her life). Both women lived through two World Wars and the depression and both ladies worked hard for most of their lives. As well, they are very smart and funny people. So, in reading Reid’s book, it was like having my grandma here with me again. (Sadly, grandma died in the summer of 2009, at the age of 92.) There were moments in the book that had me laughing so hard, tears streamed down my face and my stomach hurt. In one particularly hilarious scene, Reid’s grandmother somehow becomes entangled in her seatbelt. This quickly brought to mind an outing my grandma and I had together many years ago. It was a very hot summer day and we were going out for lunch. My car at that time was nicknamed ‘Oven Car’ – it was a notoriously bad place to be on hot, unrelentingly sunny days. I helped grandma into the car and as I got settled into my own seat, she suddenly lurched forward, grabbing the dashboard while shouting “My Ass is on fire!” But the dashboard was really hot too. “My hands are on fire!”, she then yelled. “How do you live like this?”, she wondered out loud while simultaneously trying to get undone from the seatbelt in some failed attempt at escape and fumbling with the interior controls, searching for the non-existent air-conditioning. It was so hot. But it was so hilarious and quickly became a funny story we liked to re-tell.

There were other, quieter moments, in The Truth About Luck that were beautiful and heartfelt. I am glad Reid – encouraged by his brother Jimmy – went with the idea of giving his grandmother time together as a birthday gift. They spent five days at Reid’s home in Kingston, Ontario talking, eating, seeing some local sites and learning things about one another they hadn’t previously known.

I have, unintentionally, been on this trend lately of reading books with older people featuring as main characters – here, Reid’s grandma is 92; last week I read Terry Fallis’ newest novel, Up and Down. It features a 71-year-old protagonist. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, which I read a few months ago, was a completely endearing hoot. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and Helen Simonson‘s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand also feature characters of retirement age. Given our demographic trend towards an aging population, perhaps this is the new thing in publishing? If it is — I am a big fan. I can think of quite a few more books I have read and enjoyed in recent years that feature mature characters with interesting stories — I bet you can come ups with some great books too, if you think about it for a moment. As individuals, we have a lot to learn. Within developed societies, we take a lot for granted. Hearing about the experiences, challenges and triumphs of older generations should smarten us up and help us realize that older does not mean already dead. Older does not mean no longer worth our time. On the contrary, our respect, gratitude and time should be used to honour and value those who have come before us.

Helen Edna

Helen Edna

I remember talking with my own grandma about the idea that when people get old they often get forgotten. She used to tell me how lucky she felt to have her family around her and I would feel really sad thinking about those who either had no one or had people who choose to stay away. My grandmother always had more energy and more of a social life than I ever seem(ed) to muster and I really hope to live as excellent a life as she did. So, I thank Reid for his wonderful book but also for the fact that through his book I was able to spend some precious, dedicated time remembering my own grandmother and the shenanigans we got up to together. That is a great gift to a reader indeed!

This is a much more personal review than I usually write. But I suspect this is happening to a lot of people reading The Truth About Luck. I feel that most people will find it a challenge to read this book in a detached manner. Reid’s style invites you in to a comfortable, relatable story that opens you up for reminiscence. Oh, and in a totally weird yet even more personal aside:  I really need to get in touch with Reid’s mum to find out about her use of plain yogourt to help her diabetic cat. My wonderful dog recently developed insulin-dependent diabetes and he’s had a very rough go these past few months. He’s a bit more stable now, thanks goodness, and I am researching ways to help him further. Reading that yogourt could be some sort of miracle supplement to help my dog’s coat and general health, well — I need to know more!

Edited to add: Reid recently spoke with the 49th Shelf about The Truth About Luck. It’s a great article!

11 thoughts on “The Truth About Luck – Iain Reid

  1. Oh man Jennifer! I love that Oven Car story! And what a great review. I really want to read this book. I kind of hate being south of your border. Harrumph.

    • Thanks!! It’s a weird review but, man do I love this book and the experience it created while reading, so I wanted to tell everyone about it ASAP. Yeah…that Oven Car story is an epic, classic Grandma moment. She was so awesome and loved a good laugh! 🙂

        • thanks! i guess i meant ‘weird’ in that it’s almost a non-review, certainly full of praise but not very specific to the text. but that’s okay. i think being a bit more personal in what i wrote is being true to how i felt during the read.

          isn’t his grandma cute? and i love that photo of my grandma – so stylish. she was always so well put-together, smartly dressed with her hair and make-up done nicely. she had great hair! 🙂

        • indeed; it seems like one of the strong suits of the book is that it will evoke the type of experience you had, so it’s good you shared that! 🙂

          his grandma is really cute and i love that picture of your grandma. i love that such a stylish lady would complain about your hot seats the way she did! HAHA! 🙂

  2. It’s a great review. You had a similar reaction to the one I had reading One Bird’s Choice, and I suspect that’s Iain’s main talent: his ability to grab you by the heart and hkeep you engaged. When I was at the reading, I instantly fell in love with his parents and grandma. Like you, I felt closer to my own grandma, who makes me make sense in my family. 🙂 I Even just at the reading I was recalling so many things, especially as his grandmother patted and then squeezed my hand warmly as I sat beside her, and later as we chatted about her being a nurse in WWII.

    I love how you responded to this book, and I look forward to what it’s going to do for me, too.

    About the cat part: sometimes we give Astro natural yogurt to Lucy. It contains probiotics. I’m not sure if that’s what’s helping the diabetes (I’m trying to think how they might help regulate blood sugar levels), but it would be worth a shot to contact Iain and have him ask his mom! There might be other blood sugar regulators, like cinnamon, that you could put in your dog’s food, too. But I’m not certain.

    • Thanks, Steph!! I am so glad you were able to make the event for the launch. I was wishing I could be there. I stayed up way too late two nights in a row and finished the book in those two sittings. I look forward to reading it again.

      The diabetes is a new thing to us (just since early January – but it’s taken until just this past week to get Ollie to a point where he’s much more stable with his glucose and ketones). So, I have been doing a lot of reading on ways I can help him through food/nutrition/supplements, but as it’s all still so delicate, I am so worried about throwing his levels out of whack. I actually thought I would write Iain — we have passing familiarity so it wouldn’t be too weird — and see if his mum would be open to an email exchange. Thanks for your input on the subject.

      I hope you get to The Truth About Luck soon. I suspect, since you had a great experience with One Bird’s Choice and a personal connection through the recent event, you are in for a great treat!

      🙂

  3. This does sound like a wonderful book, Jennifer, and I also loved the story about Oven Car. My ass is on fire!! 🙂 I think people often expect people of that age to be a bit staid, but in my experience they’re usually much more interesting and full of life than most people half their age! I’ll look out for this book.

    • Thank you Andrew. And yes! It’s so true. I am not sure why this marginalization of our older people goes on?? (If that’s the right word?) My G-Ma was certainly a funny and feisty woman. I’ll find out if the book is being released in GB.

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