Sarah O'Connor

Writer – Playwright – Cannot Save You From The Robot Apocalypse

CW: Sexual assault (off-page), animal death.

“I will hide her small truths in this story and she will take shape among the pages, emerge like a pop-up, come face to face with the reader. Then they will know. Then, his story will be concluded,” (Parker 86).

Famous Canadian author Baby Davidson is writing a memoir, or rather, his daughter Hillary Greene is writing it for him. Secretly, of course. Baby’s health is declining, his memory fading, and most days Hillary finds her father watching Charlie Rose or old interviews of himself, trying to memorize his own words and hang on to who he was. Hillary acts as her father’s caregiver, and an aspiring though unsuccessful writer herself, she’s dedicated to ghostwriting his memoir, struggling between her desire to show the world the truth of her father or keep his literary legacy intact. As Hillary learns more about her father it adds to the grief she feels over her sister Pauline who died a year before, as Hillary struggles with the things she is learning and how they are all connected and affect her.

Some things to clear-up right from the start, because it seems to be repeated in every review written about this book. Yes, Hillary refers to her father as Baby throughout the text. It is also explained why her dad is called Baby in the first fifty pages and I’m honestly surprised by how hung-up people are on the name usage. What We Both Know has also been compared to My Dark Vanessa from it’s own summary to other reviewers. This is an accurate comparison, both novels take a look at sexual assault from a respected figure, both are dark and unsettling, but My Dark Vanessa and What We Both Know are both entirely different, unique stories that offer little comparison aside from the topic of sexual assault.

As other reviewers have said, What We Both Know is a very literary novel. Throughout the book, Hillary often finds herself examining the mundane routines of her life as the caregiver to her father. She often deeply examines these ordinary aspects, becomes introspective of her own upbringing and how it led to who she is and how she sees herself in the present, thinks highly and misses her sister Pauline who died by suicide a year before the book takes place. Hillary also examines herself as a writer, often viewing herself as a failure, second guessing herself as she takes on the task of what to include in her father’s memoir, how to make herself sound like him, the true him she knows. Because of this, the book has a dark and bleak atmosphere that perfectly mirrors the dark, snowy Toronto the book takes place during. Parker’s voice for Hillary is distant, going over some details in a detached and disturbing way that fits with the story being told and that I absolutely fell in love with.

Hillary is also plagued by thoughts of the past and all the truths she can’t confirm about her own past, Pauline’s and all the things Hillary didn’t understand, what the parental figures in her life knew or didn’t know or pretended not to have known, what the people she trusted didn’t tell her. And while Hillary is consumed by these questions and searches for answers, there isn’t a big revelation, no loud confrontation, no easy way of bring about consolation or anyone taking accountability for the wrongs they’ve committed. I think that’s what I like best about Parker’s book. Life doesn’t offer us any big answers a lot of the times, it’s messy and bad and dark, and as much as we want justice it often doesn’t happen in ways that we’d like them to, often it doesn’t even happen at all. Can a person be held accountable for the abuse they’ve committed when they forget what it is they’ve done? What are the motivations for someone’s actions? Why are certain secrets kept in families?

It’s a dark, captivating, often frustrating as we are teased for answers that never come but an oh so realistic work. What We Both Know is brilliantly written and I can’t wait to read more of Parker’s work!

58778129Publication: May 3rd 2022
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Pages: 248 pages (Paperback)
Source: Library
Genre: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

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.

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