Reta Winters, a 44-year-old translator and writer, faces a crisis in her otherwise ordinary and loving family life when her oldest daughter Norah suddenly and without explanation decides to live on the streets of Toronto, with a sign around her neck that reads GOODNESS. The novel, written in Reta's voice, is the story of her and her family's efforts to cope and make sense of this event. But it is also the story of the everydayness of her life and her feminist ruminations on the writing process, motherhood, friendship, and marriage.


The meaning of the title of the book is found toward the end of the book when the narrator, Reta, muses, "A life is full of isolated events, but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to cement them together, little chips of grammar (mostly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define . . . words like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, theretofore, instead, otherwise, despite, already, and not yet" (208).

The family is crushed and bewildered by Norah's decision to live silently on the streets, a seemingly random, unexplainable event, but the family manages to live their lives with this horrific knowledge and a belief that some day she will snap out of it. With Norah as background, the narrative winds around writer Reta and husband (and physician) Tom, and two other daughters in the midst of an activity-filled adolescence.

Reta, however, is the focus of the book with her feminist reflections on motherhood and womanhood and the conflicting roles they bring, and on the omission of women from the literary canon. These reflections are found not only in the unfolding story of Norah but also in Reta's construction of a romantic fiction and in her work in translating a Holocaust survivor's memoirs.

At the novel's end, with Norah recovered by her family, Reta theorizes that in addition to the trauma that sent Norah to the street, perhaps she, like so many women, had "awakened in her twentieth year to her solitary state of non-belonging, understanding at last how little she would be allowed to say."


Random House Canada

Place Published

Toronto Toronto



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