“THIS ISN’T THE BEGINNING. I’m not sure what it is but I’ve decided to start here…
“Ummm, ok, I’m just going to start talking and then the words will come out without me thinking about them because what—what I did was… IIIII—I—I tried to kill myself.”
So begins Ava Mueller’s account of her life and misadventures. She grows up on a farm, sheltered by devout immigrant parents. Her mother fluctuates between suicidal threats and violent outbursts and her father, checked out of life long before Ava enters the scene, goes through the motions, tending crops, providing for his family and praying.
When a high school teacher tells Ava she should write, her world is shattered. “Boys go to school, girls help their mothers: this is what the Bible says,” her mother tells her. When Ava pushes for school, her mother issues an ultimatum. Ava chooses school.
Soon, she’s kind of crazy. Heartbroken, mistrustful and lonely, she quits school, drifts in and out of jobs, sexual relationships and friendships. Is there any point to, or value in, my own contact with air, reality and life? She thinks.
If you liked My Struggle, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark and My Name is Lucy Barton, this post-modern Northern Gothic is for you.
Book One takes us from Ava’s first memories to the beginning of high school.
What people are saying
Do the Wrong Thing flies in the same circle of brave story telling as Anna North’s The Life and Death of Sophie Stark. Van Delst writes beautifully, with sensitivity, imagination, insight and humour.
It’s like Gen X Alice Munro. FAB. Van Delst is the QUEEN of the arched eyebrow!
Ava, the heroine of Do the Wrong Thing, is resourceful but also naive and foolhardy. At one point, she decides she is pure evil and therefore must not have any friends, for example. Later, she is quite literally mad with loneliness. When she does what she considers the wrong thing, she is doing the right thing. Sound familiar? There is a little bit of Ava in all of us.
Malcolm Van Delst writes like a dark angel, and reads with transgressive humour.
I fell more and more in love with the protagonist. She is so full of enthusiasm that she never speaks in simple sentences, but definitely compound-complex sentences all strung together with commas, colons, semis, and dashes, and when I read I read all in one breath.
I got very excited and enthusiastic, and I laughed out loud, and also had to read parts to my loving husband, who was trying to read The Economist on his iPad.
Oh, God, it’s catching!
Do the Wrong Thing is deep! Van Delst is very good at unpacking that mother/daughter “stuff”—and she leaves it strewn around, making the reader kind of put it together themselves—especially where they relate to it vis-à-vis their own mothers or daughters. She is excellent at capturing all the angst of being a kid: watching things happen, and not really understanding WTF—and then having illogical explanations given, which make a kid even more puzzled. It’s all in a million often-inexplicable moments or scenarios but with van Delst’s guidance we make the connections.
Much of the prose is so gorgeous and visceral and evocative, I really got transported into Ava’s world.
I am bawling my eyes out I love the writing style it’s so raw and just honest.
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