Good To A Fault by Marina Endicott

Good To A Fault

byMarina Endicott

Paperback | September 1, 2008

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In a moment of self-absorption, Clara Purdy's life takes a sharp left turn when she crashes into a beat-up car carrying an itinerant family of six. The Gage family had been travelling to a new life in Fort McMurray, but bruises on the mother, Lorraine, prove to be late-stage cancer rather than remnants of the accident. Recognizing their need as her responsibility, Clara tries to do the right thing and moves the children, husband and horrible grandmother into her own house--then has to cope with the consequences of practical goodness.

As Lorraine walks the borders of death, Clara expands into life, finding purpose, energy and unexpected love amidst the hard, unaccustomed work of sharing her days. But the burden is not Clara's alone: Lorraine's children must cope with divided loyalties and Lorraine must live with her growing, unpayable debt to Clara--and the feeling that Clara has taken her place.

What, exactly, does it mean to be good? When is sacrifice merely selfishness? What do we owe in this life and what do we deserve? Marina Endicott looks at life and death through the compassionate lens of a born novelist: being good, being at fault, and finding some balance on the precipice.

About The Author

Marina Endicott's second novel, Good to a Fault, was winner of the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award, Canada and the Caribbean, a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and one of The Globe and Mail's Top 100 Books of 2008. Her debut novel, Open Arms, was a finalist for the 2001 Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel ...
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Details & Specs

Title:Good To A FaultFormat:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8 × 5 × 1 inPublished:September 1, 2008Publisher:Freehand BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1551119994

ISBN - 13:9781551119991

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Read from the Book

Thinking about herself and the state of her soul, Clara Purdy drove to the bank one hot Friday in July. The other car came from nowhere, speeding through on the yellow, going so fast it was almost safely past when Clara's car caught it. She was pushing on the brake, a ballet move, graceful-pulling back on the wheel with both arms as she rose, her foot standing on the brake-and then a terrible crash, a painful extended rending sound, when the metals met. The sound kept on longer than you'd expect, Clara thought, having time to think as the cars scraped sides and changed each other's direction, as the metal ripped open and bent and assumed new shapes. They stopped. The motion stopped. Then the people from the other car came spilling out. The doors opened and like milk boiling over on the stove, bursting to the boil, they all frothed out onto the pavement. It seemed they came out the windows, but it was only the doors. An old woman was last, prying herself out stiffly. Her lap was covered with redness, roses growing there and swelling downwards, and she began to screech on one note. The man, the driver, was already shouting. The line of curses streaming out of his mouth hung visible in the heavy air. Their car was the colour of butterscotch pudding, burnt pudding crusted on it in rust. The whole driver's side had crumpled inward, like pudding-skin when it is disturbed. Clara's ears were not working properly. There was a vacuum around her where no sound could ring. She could see all the mouths moving. She swallowed to clear her ears, but pressure was not the problem. What had she done? All of this. The membrane of silence burst. There was the noise-Clara felt it hit. Her body vibrated like a tuning fork. She kept her mouth shut. She put her hands up to her lips and held them closed with her fingers. The man was flailing his arms in big circles, his head jutted forward to threaten her. "What kind of a driver are you?" he was yelling, for the benefit of everyone nearby. "My fucking kids can drive better than that! My kids!" The little girl sitting on the pavement looked almost happy, as if her pinched face had relaxed now that some dangerous thing had actually happened. Clara sat down beside her. Strange to be sitting down right on the street, she thought. The road was warm. Cars whipped by beside her, their wheels huge from this low down. The man strode over, almost prancing. "You fucking hit us! What were you doing?" "I'm sorry," Clara said. It was out, the whole thing was her fault. In the case of a disputed left-hand turn, the turning party is always at fault. The man's face was blotched with red stuff. His hair was dusty. He might be thirty, or forty. She should be getting his insurance information, giving him hers. She got up, trembling knees making her slow. The women kept wailing. The younger one, a baby clutched to her breast, came rushing at Clara-to strike her, Clara thought, flinching away. "My baby! You could of killed us!" The woman's shirt flapped open, Clara saw her pale breast, there in the middle of the street. And then her eyes, glaring dark in her shocked face. Shreds of skin stuck to her shirt. Whose-the baby's? He lolled in her arms, maybe unconscious, his blue sleeper stained with matter, redness. Clara reached out to touch the poor little creature's forehead, but the mother leaped back, crying, "Get away! Get away from us!" The old woman was stupidly plucking her bloody skirt away from her body, bits of flesh falling. Wherever Clara turned there were more. A boy, bleeding, holding his head. His clothes were dirty, he must have been knocked out onto the road. Where was the other one? Clara caught at the the girl's shirt and hauled her back from the other lane of traffic. "Get your hands off her," the mother shouted. "What are you trying to do now?" There was no way to speak, to tell what she had meant. She had been driving to the bank on her lunch hour. The bank would be going on without her-how tenderly she longed for the line-up, and herself standing there, safe. The younger child sat down on the road, feeling his head. He seemed to be poking into his skull, his finger buried in blood. Clara was afraid that this was Hell, that she had died when the cars hit; that maybe there was no such thing as death, that she would be living this way from now on, in Hell. Then the police came, and there was a siren winding closer, so the ambulance was coming. Clara knelt down on the black street beside the boy and took his hand, pulling it gently away from his scalp. "I think you've got a cut there," she whispered. "Give me your hand. Let the doctors look at it, you don't want to make it worse." He stared up at her, eyes flickering over her face, trying to read her like a book, it seemed. "They'll be here to help us in a minute," she said. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." A paramedic, clean and young, leaned in the window to say they were taking the grandmother away, and the nursing mother. The police officer nodded, signalling something, so that the paramedic grunted and stood upright. He banged once on the door to say goodbye. Another ambulance arrived. The children and the man were packed into it. In the cramped back seat of the police cruiser, Clara was left to the last. The paramedics insisted that she go too, although she said she was all right. The second tow-truck was there already, taking her car. They bundled her up onto the benches in the back, and she sat down on the edge. "What will they do with the Dart?" the girl asked. "All our stuff is in it." "We were living in our car," the man said, accusing Clara. The paramedic asked him to be quiet, so he could check his pulse, or to stop the quarrel. They were all silent, after that. It was cherry juice on the grandmother. Mrs. Pell, she was called. She'd been eating a big bag of Okanagan cherries. There was a little blood, from the children, but most of the frightening mess was juice and pulp. The baby was all right. The little boy, Trevor, had a bandage on his head, but it was only a scalp wound, no concussion; instead of using stitches they had glued it shut with blue space-age glue. The girl's scraped arm had been cleaned. The father was fine. But the mother was not well. She had a fever, and there were clusters of tiny bruises. Not from the accident. The emergency nurse stared at them, touching with her fingers. The father roamed the halls. The mother was put into a room, the baby lying beside her on the narrow hospital bed. The children sat silent beside their mother. Not knowing what else to do, Clara arranged for the TV to be connected, whenever the technician next came round. Clara Purdy had been drifting for some time in a state of mild despair, forty-three and nothing to show for it. Her racing heart woke her from dreams at three each morning to fling the covers away, angry with herself for this sadness, this terror. Six billion people were worse off. She had all the money she needed, no burdens-she was nothing, a comfortable speck in the universe. She felt smothered, or buried alive, or already dead. Her mother had died two years before, leaving her the plain bungalow in a quiet area of town. Whether she wanted it or not. There she lived, like someone's widow, all alone. She worked in insurance, at the same firm for-it would be twenty years next winter. The time seemed too gauzey to bear the weight of twenty years. Clara imagined that people saw her as pleasant enough, intelligent, kind. A bit stuck-up, she got that from her mother. But sad, that she'd never had children; never gotten over her short, stupid marriage; never travelled or gone back to school and made something of herself. Her self was an abandoned sampler, half the letters unstitched, the picture in the middle still vague. Looking after elderly parents had made her elderly. The eight months of her stillborn marriage might have been her whole life. She had returned home to care for her father as he died, and then stayed for her mother's long illness, and nothing had pried her out again. She was too reserved, maybe; she'd made a mess of her few brief attachments since the divorce. Instead of the heavy work of being with people, she worked, gardened, read books on spirituality, and kept the house trim. She missed her beautiful, exasperating mother. When she was sad, she bought expensive clothes, or went to a movie by herself-two movies in a row sometimes. Anyway, she had no excuse for sadness. A grown woman doesn't pine away because her difficult mother died, because her father had died long before-or because she'd trickled her life away on an old tragedy that now seemed overblown. She went to the Anglican church, to the early service, Book of Common Prayer first and third Sundays. Not in the church the way her mother had been, managing and holding court. Clara was not on the coffee list, and did not read the lesson: she was shy in a certain way, not to make an issue of it, and did not find it easy to speak in public loudly enough to be heard, even with that high-tech tiny microphone on the long black stalk. She did the flowers when her turn came round in the rotation, but after church, and in the dark when she awoke at 3 a.m., she thought continually about how useless she was in the world. One Saturday a twisted woman stood in line ahead of her at the grocery store. Old but undaunted, this woman had complicated aluminum crutches and a large backpack. All business. The clerk helped load her grocery bags into the backpack, and eased it up onto her back-they must have done this before. Driving home, Clara saw the old woman moving along, spiderly with her crutches and pack. Clara slowed down, wanting to offer her a lift, but she had seemed very proud in the grocery store. It would be miserable to be rebuffed. Clara let her foot fall more firmly on the accelerator. The radio was spouting some story about a mother who had drowned her two children in the bathtub. The neighbour, on the radio, was saying she had heard the children crying, and that at the time she'd been grateful when the crying had stopped, but now she wished she'd- Clara snapped it off. The world was full of people struggling along with heavy suitcases, poor men dawdling in doorways until they could get their eyes to focus on the sidewalk, children with bloody noses darting past on skateboards-it was laughable, when you began to watch for who needed help. She saw an elderly gentleman fall painfully to his knees, getting off a bus, and that time she almost made herself take action; but a boy got there before her. He helped the old man up and dusted off his trousers, shaking his head at the state of the streets. A native boy, skinny and bruised, fit for care himself. There was some barrier between Clara and the world that she couldn't budge. Sometimes she thought she would have to go and work in Calcutta with the Sisters of Charity. Everything was wrong with the world-she could not keep on doing nothing.Copyright © Marina Endicott, 2008

Editorial Reviews

"Ingeniously plotted and brilliantly paced....Both witty and wise, light and dark,with many unexpected moments."