Terry Ades’ How People See is a detailed, psychological examination of a Canadian family in the mid-‘90s as it tracks the members’ woes, struggles and heartaches navigating life in Montreal in the lead-up to the referendum on sovereignty for Quebec.
The story portrays the mood of a bilingual, multi-cultural country on the brink of transformation. Ades sets a tone of dissatisfaction with the initial narrative around Oscar Horvath, a Montreal cab driver trying to provide for his francophone wife, Louise, and teenage son Steve. That task proves increasingly difficult as an attack by a group of teenagers on New Year’s leaves Oscar injured and bedridden, unable to drive his cab.
Oscar’s crisis only intensifies before Ades suddenly shifts forward in time. Oscar and Louise have died in a car crash. Steve is without parents, and Oscar’s sister Paula is one of a small group left to help the orphaned teen find a way forward. That task is hardly simple and not at all joyous. Paula tackles crises of her own, including quandaries about the well-being of her nephew and conflicts tied to her own children, her mother-in-law and others.
Ades writes with a sharpness and pathos that gets to the heart of the characters and offers moving scenes of struggle: a teenage boy bereft of family, a middle-aged man seeking dignity, a woman burdened with unexpected responsibility. The novel’s import is also tied to the seismic shifts at play in Quebecois politics and regarding Canada’s future as a united country.
The weight of the characters sometimes feels burdensome as the story evolves; this isn’t supposed to be a cheery tale, but the uninterrupted flow of existential woes can seem heavy at times. This will deter some readers.
But for those looking for a heartfelt, unshrinking, psychological character study, the book never wants for depth. And those with ties to Canadian history and Quebec in particular, this book offers a human face of broader, political transformation.
Also available as an ebook.