Marina Endicotts Good to a Fault follows the story of Clara Purdy, a single middle-aged woman whose life changes drastically after a car accident with a family of six. Their car destroyed, this group of transients has no place to live. When illness complicates their lives, Clara welcomes them into her home and cares for them as her own family. She struggles with her motivation for this act of kindness; is she doing good in a spirit of generosity or out of her own selfishness? In the end, does it really matter?
If youve had a chance to read Good to a Fault, chances are good that you continued to think about the story after the last chapter was finished. In my opinion this is because the characters in the story are very dynamic; they get stuck in your mind. I began our discussion by asking everyone around the table who their favourite character was.
We all had different answers: the baby, because hes the only character we dont hate at some point; Mrs. Pell, for comic relief; Dolly, because of her unique escapism techniques. Clary was interesting to follow throughout the book because her character was so well developed. We struggled with Darwin is he realistic or not? He is originally portrayed as detached and irresponsible, but when the tough times come he sticks around. He pulls people together when relationships break down. At the end of the story he almost seems stable; is that too hard to believe?
One of the greatest things author Marina Endicott does with her characters is set them up as a potential stereotype deadbeat dad, priest, do-good spinster, grumpy grandma and then break apart the neat little box wed put them into. It turns out that the do-gooder cant always see the right way, the deadbeat sometimes makes his way home, and the priest doesnt always have the answers. These are the things that left us thinking about the novel after we finished it.
When Clary goes out of her way to take in the children left stranded by the accident, does she overstep the boundaries? We discussed how her tightly scheduled life made her unaware of other peoples boundaries; when she goes out of her way to help in an extraordinary situation, she ends up reaching far beyond the bounds of what is expected and perhaps even acceptable. She ends up pushing too far, cutting herself off and exhausting her resources, but somehow things continue on even after she hits rock bottom.
By the end of the book we can see that Clary has learned a thing or two about boundaries. She pulls herself out of an unhealthy job situation, asserts herself in a budding relationship, and learns how to quietly rebuild relationships that have been destroyed. She doesnt have a perfect handle on things yet, and we get to watch her struggle to define her own boundaries and recognize those of others.
This book made us think about class struggles. Are the boundaries and comfort levels of each character shaped by their social class? Does our social status influence the way we view others and our attitude towards helping our neighbor? Do we look down on the people we help? One of the characters draws our attention to the distinction between low income people and people living in low income, reminding us that income does not define us; we are all still people at heart.
We discussed issues of child custody in our own province today. Great weight is given to family values, to the extent that an incapable parent may still be viewed as the best person to care for a child. What would have happened to the children in this story if Clary had not stepped in? Would their grandmother have been able to care for them? Their absentee father? Are they better off at the end of the story with a mother who is weak and not capable of providing them with as much as Clary could?
The story concludes with a picnic, in a chapter titled ascension, where all the characters come together after their various disagreements. We discussed the title of the chapter and how it might relate to a new start for the characters. This too-good-to-be-true meal on the beach, for which everybody actually shows up, is a brief moment of peace on earth before everyone drifts their separate ways again. Broken relationships are reconciled and new ones are kindled. The characters move on to different places in their lives. After everything theyve put us through, we are given a hint of hope for their futures.