Detective-novel loving vacuum salesman, Bernard, barely listens to his wife anymore. They live in the same house, but that’s about the extent of things. Gloria talks a lot. Like, a lot a lot. So when she suddenly stops talking to him, the silence comes as a bit of a shock. But, after weeks of suffering from dark thoughts and insomnia, it is not Bernard whom Gloria asks for help, but ex-daughter-in-law, Meg.
Told from four points of view – Bernard’s, Gloria’s, Meg’s, and Meg’s daughter, Ella’s – Everyday Madness is a novel which shows off writer Susan Midalia‘s great skill with characterisation. Of course, Midalia’s ability to empathise with a cast of characters that spans three generations is no surprise, given the prowess previously shown in her award-winning short story collections.
Each point of view has its own well-developed arc and style, which is appropriate to the journey that character is on. Moreover, each section of the novel is linked to the others through themes of traditional family roles, mental illness, and societal expectations of gender.
The point of view which really carried the novel was that of Meg, a speech pathology student who has helicopter-parent tendencies. Already with a lot on her plate, Meg must contend with her studies, her relationship with Gloria, concerns about pre-teen daughter Ella’s increasing pushback against her rules, and the arrival of a new man in her life.
While Hal doesn’t exactly sweep Meg off her feet (in fact, he spills coffee all over her), the development of their relationship shines a light on the work that goes into making a relationship work. This plot line serves as a great counterbalance to Bernard and Gloria’s points of view, as they navigate the apparent death of their sex life, and compare their marriage not only to that of their friends and neighbours, but also to their past selves.
Ella’s point of view is the most at odds with the rest of the book. Her voice at times comes off younger than she is supposed to be. The relationship between her and her group of friends seemed to be developing into a story about bullying and peer pressure; but this plot-line was ultimately a little flatter than I had hoped. On its own, Ella’s story could easily have been developed into its own YA book.
Though at times, Midalia may use her characters as a vehicle to editorialise (a comment about fake nails springs to mind), Everyday Madness is funny, clever, sensitive and firmly rooted in the real world. There is a little bit of something for everyone in this book.