Last Call at Adelaide Writers’ Week

As the sun sets on the 2020 Adelaide Writers’ Week, it’s time to welcome Vicky Laveau-Harvie, author of the Stella Prize-winning memoir, The Erratics.

`           In 2006 Vicky left Australia to return to her native Canada where her mother has been hospitalized for a broken hip. The mother has consistently lied to staff about her children. She only had one daughter, she has told them, and she’s dead. ‘Do I look dead,’ Vicky’s sister cries out when the nurse refuses her access. On other occasions the mother claims to have eighteen children, but not a single one of them on hand when you need them. She is most convincing in her lies, and has a way of wrapping the ‘hired help’ around her little finger.

            Vicky is travelling back and forth from the familys’ town of Ototoks to the hospital, when she spots a road sign warning of the unsafe conditions in this section of the Rocky Mountains. She seizes upon the name, the Erratics, as metaphor for the life she has led there before escaping to university. It is, she says, the perfect gift for a writer.

            After her mother’s death in 2013, Vicky Laveau-Harvie will discover that her mother’s affliction is termed ‘extreme narcissism personality disorder’, and that nothing can be done about it. Such narcissism meant that the two girls were merely extensions of the mother. Vicky’s sister becomes so incensed at her mother’s antics in the hospital that she grabs her medical chart and furiously writes: MMA. ‘What’s that?’ Vicky asks. It’s an ‘Australian-ism’ only learned yesterday, meaning ‘mad as a meat-axe’.

Vicky once asked her father why they had so much acreage around their home in Okotoks. That was the amount of space, he reckoned, that his wife needed to contain her huge personality; a personality that he has always given priority to over that of his daughters’, despite the fact that his wife has tried to starve him incrementally to death over the years.

Laveau-Harvie’s on-stage delivery at ADLWW is as smooth as the local Okotoks’ mountain range is treacherous and rocky. In her soft tones she is definite that a memoirist should never write for catharsis. You do your therapy first, she insists, and then you write.

            The Erratics twists back and forth in time, as anecdotes build to form the whole, hilarious picture of a family – or two daughters at least – in distress. It is a remarkable memoir that never loses pace, encrusted with the jewel of what is described as the author’s ‘tar-black humour’, and is an impressive credit to its literary genre.

Tags” memoir, writing, writers’ festivals, ADLWW, Vicky Laveau Harvie, Stella Prize

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