Nicole Melanson ~
Canadian author Fran Kimmel’s second novel, No Good Asking, is a straightforward story with few surprises that nonetheless explores issues of trauma, loss, bonding, and belonging with depth and nuance.
The troubled Nyland family comprises Eric, a retired police officer, his wife Ellie, adrift in mourning over past events, their son Daniel, fumbling his way through the early stages of adolescence, their five-year-old Sam, an atypical child around whom everyone walks on eggshells, and Eric’s father Walter, being swept along by dementia. Eleven-year-old Hannah literally stumbles into their midst after Eric encounters her running away during a snowstorm.
When Hannah’s stepfather is arrested for abusing her, the Nylands take Hannah in, intending to shelter her through Christmas, at which point other arrangements will be made for her care. Hannah’s arrival naturally interrupts the Nyland household dynamics—for the better. What follows is an adjustment period for all as the family renegotiates personal boundaries, behavioural strategies, and their relationships with each other. Hannah’s presence shifts from a complication to a blessing, leading the Nylands to question their next steps regarding Hannah’s future.
I found No Good Asking somewhat flawed in how it let not just Hannah’s abuser, Wilson, fade into the background, but the actual abuse itself. To my mind, Hannah showed remarkable maturity and optimism for someone so well acquainted with trauma—recently, at that—and the Nyland family seemed equally swift in their healing. That said, these characters were not cardboard props by any means, but fully fleshed out with complex personal histories and emotional range.
Interestingly, whilst this novel would probably be categorized as women’s fiction, I found the male characters the most layered and compelling. Daniel particularly captures the turbulence and uncertainty of adolescence well. I also admired the way this novel gave equal weight to all three generations of the Nyland family, rather than simply sidelining “the old” and “the young” into bit parts.
Kimmel’s writing is lovely and exact. What I most enjoyed about this book is how the setting became a character in and of itself. No Good Asking absolutely nails the sense of isolation and doom, coupled with the timeless, otherworldly quality of a week spent “snowed in”. The storm here is both literal and figurative, a constant threat lurking just outside the door with no clear end in sight. The menacing weather contrasts nicely with Christmas approaching, lending a constant undertone of hostility to the family’s festivities.
Kimmel deliberately leaves No Good Asking open-ended, encouraging the reader to wonder what happens to children who have no true home or family, and to ask what obligation we have to find safe spaces for them.
No Good Asking can be purchased from ECW Press here.
For more information about the author, visit Fran Kimmel’s website.