Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The Erratics is a beautifully crafted, unblinkingly honest, often darkly funny lament for a loving family that never was. The author’s mother was a cruel and abusive narcissist, her father an enabler and Laveau-Harvie and her younger sister the casualties of their parents’ twisted way of inhabiting the world.
Their family home is in Okotoks, a rural area in Alberta, Canada, where an enormous ancient boulder called the Okotoks Erratic “dominates the landscape, roped off and isolated, the danger it presents to anyone palpable and documented on the signs posted around it.” Laveau-Harvie describes Okotoks and the Rocky Mountains that soar above it with wonder and grace. She movingly conveys the ways in which the landscape offered her solace as a child and inspires resolve as an adult. But to survive the trauma of her early years, she first had to leave—moving to France and eventually settling in faraway Australia. “When I could, I took to fleeing ever farther, a moving target working at making herself fainter in the cross hairs, while my sister stood her ground, solid in appearance and stern, modeling her life like play dough. Neither strategy was successful,” she writes.
In 2006, Laveau-Harvie received a fateful phone call at her home in Sydney: Her elderly mother had broken her hip and was in the hospital, leaving her father alone in her parents' grand mansion. He was also, the author learned, timorous and frail as a result of his wife starving and isolating him. After being estranged from their parents for nearly 20 years, the sisters traveled to Okotoks in an effort to protect their father and procure the appropriate care for their mother.
Their six-year journey of navigating endless health care bureaucracy while revisiting familial pain makes for an engrossing and fascinating read, one that moves with the ebbs and flows of Laveau-Harvie’s supressed, impressionistic memories. She writes, “My past is not merely faded, or camouflaged under the dust of years. It’s not there, and I know a blessing in disguise when I see one.” Through this protective, gauzy “fog” beams the author’s light: an unflinching and empathetic memoir of the collision between past trauma and new outrage, dotted with precious moments of rueful levity and fleeting beauty.