It’s Hard to be Good September 16, 2014

I was talking with a new friend recently about my latest novel, Daily Life: how it centres on trying to be a good person, and how difficult that can be.

He got it right away, and told me a story.

wheelchairIt was an ordinary morning. He was walking along a sidewalk in downtown Toronto when a man in an electric wheelchair rode by.

Suddenly the man’s chair hit a crack in the sidewalk. It lunged, toppling half onto its side. My friend and a nearby woman ran over; she had been crossing the street. Between them, they held the wheelchair as upright as they could, wondering what do to.

The man in the chair was old and not in good shape. He wanted them to get his chair back on its wheels so he could continue on his way. Maybe he was a little abrupt about asking them to help him, but of course they were going to do what they could.

The chair was heavy, my friend said, but he and the woman tried very hard to get it back on its wheels.

Despite their best efforts, the chair toppled right over. It was terrible. The man was half on the sidewalk, half in his chair, although fortunately uninjured. But all wasn’t quite right. Feces spilled out of the chair seat. The man was incontinent and the smell was dreadful.

My friend estimated that the chair weighed 90 pounds. Trying to ignore the smell, he and the woman Samaritan kept struggling. Finally, they managed to get the chair upright, so the man was able to drive off. As he did, he called over his shoulder, “Thanks for nothing, assholes.”

I haven’t been able to forget this story, which my new friend said I could pass on. The man in the wheelchair, who had to be embarrassed. The chastened Samaritans, who’d tried to help. All writers are obsessive, circling around the same places and subjects and themes. Trying to be good: this is mine.

In Daily Life, this plays out in the life of my main character, Leslie, as she motors through an up-and-down year. She’s called for jury duty in a murder trial. Stumbles on her alcoholic brother panhandling on the street, and brings him home. Comes up the walk to find delivery men trying to off-load a bed: her 23-year-old daughter is pregnant and moving back home, bringing her sick boyfriend with her.

A bemused Leslie finds herself living in a widesized house as the economy staggers, the environment warms and schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria.

The opening chapters of Daily Life are archived on the right side of this page, starting with Diving Into the Jury Pool.