Take a moment and imagine a family of six traveling from city to city in order to survive, their only home, a car. Suddenly as their driving along a women speeds into them crashing, and wrecking their home. They are all then taken to a hospital, where the family discovers that the mother has progressive cancer in her lymph nodes. After this discovery, the father decides to skip town leaving his wife, three young children and elderly mother homeless. Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott is an exceptional novel.
Endicott won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best book in Canada and the Caribbean for Good to a Fault. Why might you ask? Each character is so extraordinarily developed and so well described it feels as if you know them yourself. Their emotions, thoughts and actions are so personal that at the end of the novel Endicott has created a wonderful and realistic person. Their conflicts are so profound, that they are crippling to the characters that suffer under them.
And a theme that so important that the book is named after it.
Like most novels Good To A Fault has a variety characters with an array of personalities, thoughts and behaviors. What sets it aside from others, is the vivid characterization of not only the fundamental characters of the story, but even the characters that are only introduced once. The rotation of perspectives gives the novel a whole new view on each character’s true personality and on the conflicts they face. As Mary Jo Murphy from the New York Times said, “it’s the quieter introspective dramas, provided by Endicott’s skillful rotation among the characters’ points of view, that hold your attention.” Each character’s thoughts are described by the author in exact correspondence with their personalities. For example; Paul, who is a pastor, often indirectly makes allusions to faith.
Like when he and Darwin are fixing up Clara’s basement Paul says, “Today is a time for rejuvenation “pg.153 or when he is speaking to Clara about her generosity towards the Gage’s he says “You sacrificed yourself for others” pg.329 Through this, Endicott solidifies Paul’s personality, tying him to his religion. Making Paul a symbol of Christianity which brings into question the faith of many characters. Allowing the reader to experience the many sides of faith. Apart from that , appearance and reputation help to build complete characters.
Take the protagonist Clara , Paul describes her as “…single, childless of course, took care with her appearance, fortyish, Christian, and not in good spirits for some time since her mothers death.” pg.26. This information helps develop a rounded character. It isn’t enough just to say that Clara is a nice person, so that is why she takes care of the Gage family. The author uses her faith, age and relationship status to give reason for her generous actions. It helps the reader gain a better understanding of Clara’s personality, and accordingly builds a relationship between the reader and the protagonist.
Above all things what sets this book aside from any other is the conflicts. Unlike most books the conflict of this story introduces itself in the very first paragraph, “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.”pg. 7. Because of this you would think that there would be no rising action, no excitement and no great lesson for the protagonist to learn, but you would be wrong. This conflict originally appears as if it will have the most impact, but it does not. In fact it stems off into several other conflicts that characters struggle with individually, and as a group. For instance, Lorraine’s diagnosis with cancer. This leads to her husband, Clayton, struggling to find his family a safe home, which he fails to do on his own.
This leaves him bitter because instead of him finding a solution through hard work, he is left to stay with the very women who put them in the situation, Clara. As he says when confronting Clara at the hospital, “Hard on you? Hard to sit and watch the results of what you did?”pg23. He decides to deal with this by leaving the family. His actions burden Clara with the care of the family he left behind. Leading to Clara’s guilt of driving the children’s father away and leaving the mother all alone. Ultimately she struggles with the idea that she cares for the Gage family either out of guilt or to fill the empty spaces not only in her spare rooms, but in her life. It only took Endicott one simple incident to create a million other problems throughout the novel. Each conflict faced, allows the reader to understand more about each character’s role in the story. Finally molding the novel into the theme.
The theme I took from this novel was ; personal satisfaction of goodwill is the only payment for charity,for if it’s not, the deeds bring no true meaning. However when I contacted Marina Endicott on twitter she described the theme as follows; “How the debt of charity is redeemed; Love your neighbour as yourself.” After Clara divorces her husband, she is left wounded by their short, detached marriage. Her parents then become ill and she must care for them. But soon they both die leaving Clara alone with all their possessions and burdens. When Clara opens up her home to the Gage family and a friend’s daughter, she must decide whether her actions are truly pure and for others benefit, or greedy and only being used to fill the void left by her parents and husband.
So she questions herself, “I see what they need, but I am unwilling to help.”pg 25 When Clara takes in the Gage family she originally believes she is doing it to make up for the car accident she caused. As the visit becomes longer Clara grows more and more attached to the family as she brings them into her life. Caring for them soon becomes less of an obligation, and more of a desire as she grows to truly love the Gage’s like they were her own. She becomes so attached that she does not wish that they leave her home, and when they do she is deeply angered. “She did not want anything, except Pearce back, and Dolly, and Trevor; except the life she had left this afternoon, to run over and help Lorraine- to help her again!”pg.327 .This theme is a great topic that adds depth the novel.
The whole story Clara is faced with deciding whether what she does is out of loneliness or out of good will. It is a topic that we should all consider when we decide to do something charitable. And yet another reason why I believe this is a wonderful piece of litterature. Ultimately this book incorporates everything that makes a good, memorable novel . It’s realistic, likeable and relatable characters keep the reader the attached to the story. These characters face conflicts that challenge them physically and emotional but lead them to fulfilling rewards. Finally these elements are all summed up to create a concrete theme of charity versus selfishness, a topic rarely touched on in our society. These elements of the novel piece the story together as a whole and make it strong enough to last the test of time. This is a great novel.