Days of Awe by Lauren Fox

Read in September 2017

3 of 5 stars

Isabel Moore, the appealingly flustered forty-something protagonist of Lauren Fox’s novel Days of Awe, is grappling with several profound and sudden changes in her life. In the space of a few devastating months, her husband Chris has moved out of the house and into an apartment on his own, her daughter Hannah, on the cusp of adolescence, has inexplicably transformed from a smiling little girl into a sulky brat, and her out-spoken and rebellious best friend Josie has been killed in a single car crash. The action depicts Isabel’s attempts to compensate for and understand a series of painful losses and her struggle to adjust to a revised sense of self within reduced personal circumstances. Temperamentally, Isabel is somewhat passive: an indifferent disciplinarian, a follower-of-rules who is often shocked by Josie’s mutinous attitudes and defiant behaviour. Both are teachers. Their friendship developed and solidified within that context over a dozen or so years, eventually growing warm and trusting. But in the months leading up to Josie’s accident, Isabel noticed a change in her friend’s demeanor and conduct: an emotional withdrawal and a not-so-subtle shift from simply flaunting acceptable behaviours to outright recklessness. After Josie’s death, the fact that Isabel did almost nothing to explore this change and find out what was causing it is a constant source of guilt. Similarly, she is knocked for a loop when Chris moves out, and seems helpless when confronted by Hannah’s snarly eye-rolling. It is Isabel’s lack of preparedness for the obstacles that life flings in her path that makes her so sympathetic and believable: her candid assessment of herself as someone with no road map for the future, someone who never sees it coming, someone who puts on a brave face but is actually making it up as she goes along. We have all felt that way, especially when life blindsides us with some calamity, but we push forward regardless because society demands that we pretend to have it all under control. Isabel the narrator is under no such constraint, and her fumbling and mostly unsuccessful attempts to deal with the ever more complex challenges of day-to-day living—not to mention her own emotions which, as the pressure mounts, become volatile and unpredictable—provide welcome moments of hilarity within the novel’s tragic framework. Fox’s writing is vivid and engaging, and the narrative is punctuated by wry observations on family, love and parenthood and Isabel’s ironic and self-deprecating admissions of incompetence in just about every aspect of her own life. Days of Awe is a witty, wise and entertaining work of fiction by a writer with a deft comic flair, and if the ending is a bit tidy and abrupt, it hardly detracts from the novel’s emotional clout.