Set in Vancouver, Anne Giardini's debut novel, The Sad Truth About Happiness
, follows the life of Maggie, 32, a well-adjusted radiation technologist, as she tries to discover the true nature of happiness. She knows she cannot look to her two sisters as examples: her older sister, Janet, burdened with three kids, is on tranquilizers, while Lucy, the younger, has always been difficult and discontented. Maggie's love life, however, is blossoming, with three new boyfriends (including a doctor and a lawyer). Meanwhile, Maggie's friend, Rebecca, who designs quizzes for women's magazines, tests Maggie with a quiz that purports to measure expected life span. When they learn, according to the quiz, that Maggie might die in three months unless she discovers true happiness, Maggie takes the light-hearted results seriously and sets off on her quest.
Around the same time, Lucy, who has moved to Italy, becomes pregnant by an older Italian man. She flees back to Canada, to the arms of good-hearted, innocent Ryan, who has offered to marry her. When her baby arrives, so does the Italian father, to take his son home to Italy. This is when the novel develops some far-fetched plot twists, as Maggie (who suddenly acts completely out of character) kidnaps the infant and takes off for Quebec with Rebecca, hiding in a small town apparently peopled only by good-hearted Quebecois women. While the author shows a literary flair, particularly in her descriptions of the sky and weather ("the dove- and pearl- and abalone-coloured clouds," "hail the size of infants' teeth"), and draws characters that are, for the most part, believable, the book (like Maggie's evasive happiness) is marred by series of unlikely events and coincidences. --Mark Frutkin
From Publishers Weekly
This charming though overwritten debut from novelist Carol Shields's eldest daughter hinges on the sympathetic protagonist's realization that she is "not completely" happy, an insight that surprises her when a magazine quiz devised to predict longevity calculates that she has but three months to live. Thirty-something Maggie Selgrin, an unmarried radiation technologist in a Vancouver hospital, has always been the even-tempered middle daughter in a remarkably wholesome family. Despite her professional stability, solid friendships and close family, the quiz triggers her admission of discontent. Not only does she ache for romance (she links joy with the idea of a relationship), but she realizes she has always subsumed her needs to those of her more temperamental sisters. Maggie flounders and fumbles to regain her emotional footing before no less than three men enliven her static existence and she becomes embroiled in the kidnapping of her sister Lucy's baby. Giardini's meditative, hyper-descriptive prose can bog down the plot, but readers will surely relate to her likable heroine. And if the story offers no novel lessons about life, love or the pursuit of happiness ("Happiness evades capture, dissolving like a melody into the air, eluding even the most delicate, careful grasp"), it does provide a pleasantly entertaining journey. (May)
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