I finished this book (my second read in the Giller shortlist) last night, and I loved it. I found the story very compelling, and well paced, and optimistic at the end.
The main character, Morris, is watching his life fall apart around him. His son was a soldier recently killed in Afghanistan, his wife has kicked him out, his eldest daughter won't talk to him or let him see his grandson, and his younger daughter, at age 17, is dating a man twice her age. He regularly uses an escort service (where he meets one of his son's friends who is working there); he is carrying on a correspondence with a woman in the US who's son was killed in Iraq, which may or may not develop into more; and he is on leave from his job as a syndicated columnist as his writing fell apart after his son was killed.
Morris is a very flawed character. In his own words, he describes the burden that he has to carry around with him, "his tremendous pride, his fear, his love of sex and high-heeled shoes, his envy and rage, his shame." And yet I was drawn to him, for who of us is without flaw. His flaws are balanced out by the good - his generosity, his love for his family, his introspection and wanting to make his life better. At times I found myself comparing (favourably) this book to Girl Crazy, another story of a man watching his life fall apart around him. In that case, I found nothing sympathetic in the main character, and found the characters to all be very flat and two-dimensional. In this book, I found the characters to be very well rounded, and with depth that is revealed throughout the book, and, well, human.
There are moments of profound sadness in this book. When Morris writes to Ursula about his son, "I am afraid of many things. Of sleeping and dreaming of my son and then waking to find that I was only dreaming. Of the darkness, of death, of life itself, of plodding through the day, always aware that i am alive when my son is dead." And yet the book as a whole left me with a sense of hope.
I'm sure that this book isn't for everyone. It is very introspective and lacking in action. However I enjoyed it unreservedly. I'm glad that it made the shortlist as I likely wouldn't have read it otherwise.
This counts as a selection towards The Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.
And the current standings in my Giller reading challenge (in order of preference):
1. The Matter with Morris
2. This Cake is for the Party