A French Canadian family gathers for Christmas around the ailing patriarch and his quiet wife. But it is dominated by anxiety over the father’s rigid Parkinson’s disease and a recent stroke that have robbed him of clear speech and movement.

Through the eyes of the son who is nearing sixty, the holiday is a painful obligation that must be endured; the toxic atmosphere contains an undeclared emergency. The son admits that he has never loved his father whom he compares to Stalin for his iron-fisted and undemonstrative ways. One of the dad’s greatest sins was stealing credit for the catch of a giant fish that had actually been landed by the son long ago.

Nor does the narrator like his siblings to whom he refers in epithets that convey his disparagement of their proclivities: the Banker, the Vegetarian, the Homeopath, the Medicals, the Buddhists. His young nephew – who has two names—William / Sam—genuinely cares for the feelings and well-being of others, especially the grandparents. The only other person who is granted these qualities is Isabelle, the much younger fiancée of the narrator, in whom he takes possessive pride, as if she exemplifies his own wisdom, taste, and youth.

Suddenly the narrator and William both realize that the patriarch ought to die and that they should help. To the horror of the siblings and with the blessing of his mother they embark on a plan to feed him everything he likes but should not have—and lots of it. Perversely the man improves. The story culminates in a fishing trip where the original sin was committed.


A meditation on the ravages of aging, disability and prospective mortality.

Only Sam/William and Isabelle are regularly referred to by name. All the others have names, but after the first two chapters they are addressed and defined only in relationship to the unlovely narrator—“my” sister, mother, father, lover. The narrator emerges as nasty; he hates his father, scorns his mother. and loathes his sisters with “large breasts.”

The story plods on downward, with its revelations of forced cheerfulness, authoritarian behavior, and lies – perhaps more typical of the average family Christmas than anyone cares to admit. But at the middle, the pace quickens when Sam and his uncle commit to their homicidal plan, telling themselves that it is a kind of euthanasia—a good death. Food and its preparation are major players.

From that moment on, the narrator sees his parents and their marriage in a different light. As the elders enjoy their wicked meals of forbidden food, he imagines their past must contain shared pleasures and a private strength that he had not known. He begins to like them, and to understand their desire to be well and live, just at the moment that they choose to die. And by dying, the father makes almost comical amends for his greatest sin.


translated from the French by Wayne Grady


Douglas and McIntyre

Place Published

Vancouver and Toronto



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