Mini-Reviews: What We Both Know & FoundrysideWhat We Both Know by Fawn Parker
Published by McClelland & Stewart on May 3, 2022
Genres: Literary Fiction
Pages: 248
Source: Received from publisher

2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist

For readers of My Dark Vanessa, a mesmerizing, disturbing, and thoroughly compelling novel about one woman’s role in preserving—or destroying—her famous father’s legacy.

In front of me are hundreds of pages of work. Already I feel it leaving me. He will obliterate what is there, replace it, deny I ever wrote a word. But, he cannot take the words I write on my own.

Hillary Greene’s father, once a celebrated author and public figure, is now losing his memory and, with it, his ability to write. As her father’s primary caretaker, each day begins with two eggs, boiled and Charlie Rose or some other host on the iPad screen. Her father compulsively watches himself in old interviews, memorizing his own speech, trying to hang on to who he was.

An aspiring author herself, Hillary impulsively agrees to ghost-write his final work—a memoir spanning his career—and release it in his name. Diving deep into her father’s past, and in turn her own, a horrifying truth begins to piece itself together.

With full control over her father’s memoir, Hillary is faced with a stark choice: reveal her father as a monster or preserve his legacy as a respected literary figure. But she wonders what writing the truth will do to her and if it will damage her own prospects for a career. Whichever option she chooses, Hillary has to deal with the significant pain writing the memoir has re-surfaced—specifically, how the truth about her father adds to her grief over the death of her enigmatic sister, Pauline. For the first time in her life, Hillary holds the power.

Set in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, What We Both Know is a visceral, intimate, and complex novel about confronting the personal and professional consequences—and potentially devastating fallout—of revealing the truth about a famous man.

Hillary Greene’s life has been put on hold so that she can take care of her father. Her father, an acclaimed novelist, has been prevented from writing his memoirs because of his sharp physical decline and advancing memory loss. In what initially seems to be an altruistic act, Hillary moves back to her childhood home so that she can ghostwrite his memoir. But Hillary has plans for the memoir – plans that will unmake her father’s legacy. While her father is none the wiser, Hillary will write the truth that she and her father both know.

What We Both Know is a character study of a woman with a deeply wounded psyche. The story deals with some heavy topics by leaving a lot unsaid, putting the onus on readers to infer what’s happening and what’s happened. Hillary’s motivations complex and multifaceted, and I appreciated that Parker resisted the simplicity of a “revenge” narrative. Suffice it to say that trigger warnings are a must for this story and thankfully the finished copy does include them.

Parker makes great use of a stream of consciousness style to communicate Hillary’s disjointed thoughts and perspective. The style won’t be for everyone (it’s not my favourite) but it served the narrative well. Hillary’s worldview is bleak, her self-esteem is in the gutter, and she’s grieving deeply. But beneath her flat affect, Hillary is a deeply angry person. It isn’t hard to guess why she might be this way, and although Parker doesn’t reveal specifics until well into the story, it’s immediately clear that her father is at the heart of it.

Parker takes the time to conjure a deeply unsettlingly sense of looming anticipation, a feeling that something is about to be revealed. This propels the narrative forward in the absence of a plot, and it’s what kept me turning the pages. When the truth is finally revealed in its entirety – or the entirety of what Hillary can and chooses to know – the effect is devastating. I knew what had happened quite early on in the story but still felt the emotional impact at the reveal.

Those looking for a story where bad people are punished may find themselves unsatisfied with What We Both Know. Personally, I could’ve done with a few consequences for evil-doers, but this isn’t a fantasy. It’s an honest, unflinching portrayal of how childhood abuse can shape someone’s life.

Mini-Reviews: What We Both Know & FoundrysideFoundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Series: The Founders Trilogy #1
Published by Random House Worlds on May 21, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 512
Source: Received from publisher

“The exciting beginning of a promising new epic fantasy series. Prepare for ancient mysteries, innovative magic, and heart-pounding heists.”—Brandon Sanderson

“Complex characters, magic that is tech and vice versa, a world bound by warring trade dynasties: Bennett will leave you in awe once you remember to breathe!”—Tamora Pierce

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself—the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.
But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic—the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience—have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.
Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.
To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

Sancia Grado is one of the best thieves in Foundryside. Nimble, strong, and ruthless, Sancia also has a mysterious magical ability to aid her in her exploits. But despite her legendary jobs, Sancia’s not exactly living large. When she’s offered a life changing payout to steal a powerful magical artifact, she knows it’s too good to be true. But desperate people make foolish choices, and soon enough she’s joined hands with a ragtag group racing against the clock to prevent the artifact from falling into the wrong hands.

Foundryside is at its best when the worldbuilding takes centre stage. The city of Tevane is ruled by four houses whose members live like royalty thanks to a magic called scriving. Scriving is rooted in linguistics and debate, and uses sigils to “convince” objects to perform all manner of impossible feats. The wheels of a carriage can be scrived to start, stop, and accelerate so that it can move independent of a horse, or a lock can be scrived so that only people with a specific bloodline can be allowed entry to a room.

The power disparity between house members and unaffiliated citizens is, unsurprisingly, quite vast. Those who don’t live in or work for a house are living in the city’s worst slums, a neighbourhood called Foundryside. Life there is marked by squalor, violence, and desperation. Bennett’s evocative descriptions of Foundryside made the area and its inhabitants feel real in all their rawness. Personally, I thought the concept of Foundryside was much more interesting and original than the houses were, and I would’ve liked more scenes there.

Ultimately, Foundryside suffered from uneven pacing and writing. The narrative attempts to combine serious philosophical questions with a fun heist story but I don’t think it does justice to either. There are some interesting ideas here around capitalism, war, and slavery, but unfortunately, they aren’t fully explored – there simply wasn’t enough time.

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading Foundryside but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, either.