Just Like Family

Toxic workplace! Destabilizing relationships! Bad boss! No time to eat or sleep! Horrible clients!

Avery Graham, like most of us, is having a crisis. Her friends don’t fit anymore. Her mom is keeping secrets. Her boss is an asshole and she hasn’t figured it out. Her job is insane. She’s not even sure it’s the right job. The people she has to deal with are crazy and she has to take their shit. She’s rethinking her life choices. Her boyfriend wants to get married and the idea makes her sick. It’s not her fault, really. She hasn’t had a day off in months. And emotional baggage is a thing.

Avery is doing her best. And her best is pretty good. She’s smart, she’s tough, she works hard, she has struggled to get where she is. She’s diplomatic and fresh. She’s who a lot of women with promising careers would like to be. I’d like to be her. (Minus all the stuff in paragraph one and two. Her apartment sounds really nice and the Toronto housing market is insane.)

I crushed Just Like Family, by Kate Hilton, in a couple of hours. I’m not sure if it was the crippling anxiety that forced me forward, or the pace of the story. I’m not even sure if the anxiety was caused by the book, or I was anxious when I picked it up. Probably both. Avery’s experience is familiar and a little painful. I’ve heard it before, from friends, from strangers online. It felt like my life.

What Hilton has done is taken an ordinary person, (and made it funny and thrown in some major political events, sure) and exposed how crazy we make our normal lives. How sometimes we neglect ourselves in pursuit of a life. Avery Graham’s life is plausible. She’s not a glamourous heroine in some manufactured, improbable situation. She works in municipal politics in a big-ish Canadian city. She’s 43. We don’t know too much about how she looks. Probably pretty average. She’s made bad choices and bounced back, and made other choices she hasn’t gotten over. She’s not sure she’s making the right career and relationship moves now.

Hilton appears to have used some recent Canadian political figures and coloured them in with fiction, but this only adds to the underlying sense of “this could happen. This could be real.” I used to cover municipal politics. I’ve met the type of people Avery deals with on a daily basis, and this makes these parts of the book even funnier than they might be to other readers. The situations might seem surreal—they’re not. Avery’s story is ordinary, displayed in way to remind us to look at our own lives.

I get Avery. We all get her. An endorsement on the cover from Jennifer Robson says: “No one captures the feverish intensity of modern life better than Kate Hilton.” – Jennifer Robson. Robson terrifyingly right. And from where I’m sitting, it’s the most accurate book endorsement I’ve ever read.

Kate Hilton was at Events 57 (Top of the List) and 66 (Portrait of a Marriage) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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