Family matters

Final act of McKinnon's summer thriller brings a surprise twist

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Things are pretty tough for Eleanor Hardwicke.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/07/2020 (876 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Things are pretty tough for Eleanor Hardwicke.

In a 24-hour period, the Portland-based single young web designer loses her father, without a chance to say goodbye, and finds out hours before his death that he wasn’t even her biological dad.

Oh, and she gets mugged on the way home from the hospital.

While grieving the loss of the only family member who seemed to love and accept her, she sets out to find her mystery dad, Stan Gallinger, one of the richest, most powerful men in town, only to be further rejected. The product of an affair, she finds out her mother had been bought off for $100,000 to keep Eleanor out of Stan’s perfect life.

To top it off she has the most conniving sister and mother one could imagine. If they had moustaches, they’d no doubt be twirling them. Her mom, in particular, is like a real-world Disney stepmother. Not only do they barely speak to Eleanor and exclude her from their own mother-daughter time, they even devise a scheme to have her blackmail Stan and then take the money for themselves.

The relentless, baroque hardships Eleanor faces in the early chapters of Sister Dear border on being unintentionally funny, but Oakville, Ont.-based writer Hannah Mary McKinnon creates a protagonist so relatable and likable that you can’t help but root for her, even as she makes one cringe-worthy decision after another that take her on a dark downward spiral.

Through some online stalking, Eleanor soon learns she has a half-sister, Victoria, whose life is seemingly perfect. She has a slim figure, a devoted husband, a luxurious home and a close relationship with her parents — basically everything Eleanor wants and thinks she deserves.

Eleanor, who also has work troubles and a terrible self-image, grabs her camera and turns her online stalking into the real thing, setting out to insert herself into Victoria’s Instagram-worthy life. What could possibly go wrong?

McKinnon does a great job of making you question Eleanor’s mental state. Is she really as unattractive and frumpy as she says she is, or is that all in her head? The handsome gym-owning muscle man upstairs seems to find her attractive enough. And, yes, there is a romance, which complicates things further for our put-upon narrator.

But while it starts off rather predictable and over-the-top, McKinnon’s fourth novel turns out to be a pretty fun page-turner once Eleanor gets so deep into Victoria’s life that they’re having spa dates and Thanksgiving dinner together, her jealously and desperation for family acceptance consuming her.

It also leads to a surprise twist in the final act that falls somewhere between Gone Girl and an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Overall, it’s a pretty breezy read that screams “summer beach reading.”

 

Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg-based communications professional.

 

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