May 25, 2015


FYI

Memoir easily blends humour, gravitas

TWENTY-EIGHT-YEAR- OLD Kingston, Ont., writer Ian Reid faced a dilemma: what to get his 92-year-old maternal grandmother for her birthday?

His big brother suggests that the one thing Reid has is time -- why doesn't he take their grandmother on a trip?

Iain Reid

Iain Reid

Winnipeg is floated as a possible destination -- their grandmother grew up here -- but Reid recoils at the prospect of cold, crime and mosquitoes.

Ultimately, he decides on a "road trip," which really amounts to taking his grandmother from her home in Ottawa to stay with him at his apartment in Kingston for a few days.

This unlikely vacation is detailed in Reid's brief, well-written account, a followup to his popular coming-of-age memoir, One Bird's Choice (2011).

What makes The Truth About Luck memorable is its blend of humour and gravitas. It is both very funny and, at times, very serious.

Reid has a self-deprecating sense of humour. He sprinkles witty observations and asides throughout the narrative.

He describes sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant with his grandmother where the hostess, a Vietnamese woman, refills his glass of water the moment he takes a sip from it: "She smiles and nods as she does it," Reid writes. "It's a strange dynamic, and my instinct is to simply mimic her behaviour. I grin and nod back. We grin and nod together, thanking each other. I think I've said thank you 40 times already."

But, as noted, this is more than a humorous memoir. Reid, in his conversations with his grandmother, addresses serious topics like aging, the meaning of life and death, and memory.

Reid had previously known his grandmother primarily as a listener, but on this trip she opens up and reminisces about her life.

She recalls her experiences in the Second World War, in which she served as a nurse.

She relates some memories of Winnipeg in the 1920s. "In the winter there were outdoor rinks all over," she tells her grandson. "The girls were supposed to just skate around while the boys played hockey. That's just the way it was. Can you imagine that? I hated that!"

The title of this book is somewhat curious. Reid's grandmother frequently describes herself as lucky, but the significance of this is never fully explained. Another quirk is that Reid never mentions his grandmother's name, referring to her throughout as "Grandma."

Inkling

Only when she is relating a wartime experience in which someone calls her "Nick" do we get an inkling of what her name is.

Reid concludes with some observations about his grandmother's longevity, which he attributes to her interest in others and focus on being practical.

This funny, thoughtful memoir is highly engaging. Reid's interactions with this elderly woman are sometimes awkward, sometimes profound, but always entertaining.

Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2013 J8

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