Ana is a research lawyer, and a wife: she has not had everything.

McClelland & Stewart, 2012 (Emblem Editions)

This is not all bad. Because she has not had a child, she has not had occasion to conceal the responsibilities of motherhood from her employers, she has enjoyed the freedom of a child-free existence, and her marriage has not suffered from the stresses that come with parenting.

But it’s not all good either: she has suffered through at least one miscarriage and, with James, she has passionately pursued a series of medical treatments to overcome their difficulties with conception, and she is constantly struggling with the perception that a woman/couple is incomplete without a child.

Katrina Onstad’s novel, Everybody has Everything, considers the nature of everything, whether it is truly desirable and the perception of its defining elements in our society.

Ana and James’ story is as much about the wanting of it as it is about the having of it, but the events in the novel cluster around an incident which appears to have solved the “problem” of their not having it.

“Between a lunch and a dinner, Ana and James had become stewards of a human being.”

What has happened in those few hours, in those few pages?

Their friends, Marcus and Sarah, have been in a car accident; Marcus has been killed, Sarah is in a coma, and Ana and James had been established as their son Finn’s guardian.

Now, Ana has everything.

And, now what?

Now, everything changes.

Even in her first novel, Katrina Onstad tried on this idea:

“’Have you thought about what you’ll do if you are pregnant?’ she asks.
Sure. I don’t think there’s a woman alive who hasn’t run through every single what-if scenario, moved the pieces around and back again a hundred times, playing mommy like you did as a kid.”

(How Happy To Be was considered here, in conjunction with Leah McLaren’s The Continuity Girl, as part of the debate over whether they should be marketed and read as ChickLit or LitLit.)

Ana has thought about it, of course, but she hasn’t anticipated the dramatic circumstances that surround Finn’s arrival, which coincide with James’ freshly unemployed status:

“How is motherhood supposed to feel? Because she wasn’t sure that it should feel like this, so much like terror. And her husband was leaving her alone with that feeling, while he went to play hockey.
That was what she had meant to say.”

James has thought about it, too, but he is overwhelmed by aspects of the situation that could not have been anticipated. (And, as a recently unemployed television documentary producer, the landscape of his professional life is now changing as fundamentally as other aspects of his identity.)

“’Is there any information that would help us get to know your child better?’ James considered writing:  ‘Mother in a coma; father in a drawer.’ He didn’t, but smiled at the possibility, then accepted the sorrow on the other side of the smile.”

James and Ana cope (in varying degrees of success) alone with this fresh change/disruption in their lives.

Problems between them which had been niggling become, in the context of new parenting responsibilities, seemingly insurmountable.

“But he left the mess to her because only she could calm herself. He fucked things up; stacked the dishwasher wrong, didn’t put the laundry in the bureau quickly enough. That was the conversation. He was tired of it. He was speaking less.”

Just when Ana and James have everything, they find themselves desperate to redefine its importance, its components, its sustainability.

McClelland & Stewart, 2006

Here, too, a theme first explored in How Happy To Be resurfaces:

“What I remember about love is that it succeeds or fails on the will to concede the rest, the part that’s outside the stories, outside desire, that aureole that tells you something deeper exists. What is that anyway? Some kind of self, I suppose. It’s tiring just to try to locate it, let alone hand it off to someone else.”

The narrative stretches from the Tuesday after Labour Day weekend to late in the following spring, affording glimpses directly into Ana’s and James’ experiences, in passages of alternating lengths and styles.

The amount of dialogue propels the pace of a largely-interior novel, and readers experience a sense of sudden immersion, discord, and uncertainty, which mirrors the experience of the novel’s main characters.

Certain elements of the story may leave some readers dissatisfied; both Ana and James make decisions which aren’t fully explained.

(They can’t explain their decisions to themselves — or each other — either, and they aren’t always likeable while testing their own desire to pursue what they suddenly think they are missing, now that they have “everything”.)

Ultimately Katrina Onstad remains loyal to her characters; she allows them to be as happy as they are (and are not), and she gives them the opportunity to have everything and — correspondingly — the opportunity to doubt that they ever really wanted it.

Everybody Has Everything is a book which challenges what we hope will happen for these characters on the page and reminds us that we face similar challenges in balancing our desires and our realities in our daily lives.

Companion Reads:
Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault (2008) for the way in which an unexpected tragedy can unexpectedly impact individuals;
Jessica Weshead’s Pulpy and Midge (2004) for the nuts-and-bolts of a marriage strained in the everyday way with a good dose of working life alongside; and,
Meg Mitchell Moore’s The Arrivals (2011), for a consideration of the stress and strain that erupts in the context of parenting young children and grown children alike.