Title: Basement Suite
Author: Susan Farrell
Published: Cape Breton University Press (2009)
This is a story about a relationship. A disintegrating, oblivious, ill-fated relationship. But, hey, it's got some very funny moments sprinkled in amongst all the depression and heartache.
In Susan Farrell's debut novel, Basement Suite, two lovers--Eddy and Liz--take part in a relationship survey. It's through their answers to the questions posed that we discover who they are in their own eyes, as well as in the eyes of the other. The portraits are interspersions of beauty with a whole lot of confusion and pain.
They're twenty-somethings in the aptly described starter city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Eddy is the one who suggested the survey as way to make a quick buck, but he's clueless about answering questions that aren't multiple choice. His thinking is basic in just about every way, and it gradually shows in every facet of his relationship with Liz. Liz is taking the survey as a way to navigate through her feelings about Eddy. He doesn't exactly make it easy for her, and she's not the type to lay things out point blank for him. Beyond the problems with the relationship, Liz is also contending with her insurmountable student loan debt, her and Eddy's friends, and a family past that's heart-wrenching in its authenticity.
The narrative of the story felt a little garbled at times, even though it is compartmentalized in an interesting way. Each chapter is a question from the survey, divided in two with Eddy and Liz each offering their own views. It's through their answers that we learn about how their relationship began, progressed, and hints as to where it's headed. Eddy's is blissfully ignorant to his own infidelity--"It's just oral"--and Liz never really confronts him on it. They love each other, but are simply ill-equipped in dealing with one another.
I'd recommend checking out this novel, not just because it's by a Maritime author, but because the way Farrell brings these two characters to life through this pseudo-diary style is a bit of a treat. You think early on that you have these two lovers pegged, but as each survey question is posed and they ramble on about themselves and each other, you realize you weren't even close. And the ending comes right out of left field.
If nothing else, it's worth checking out just for Liz's phone call to the Department of Consumer Affairs and Eddy's rationalization for unabashedly cheating on Liz.