Crow by Amy Spurway

I can’t stop looking at this gorgeous cover.

I’m seeing Crow everywhere right now; on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. And I can see why readers are falling in love with this book.

Meet Crow…

I come from a long line of lunatics and criminals. Crazies on one side of the family tree, crooks on the other, although the odd crazy has a touch of crook, and vice versa. I am the weary, bitter fruit – or perhaps the last nut – of this rotten old hybrid, with its twisted roots sunk deep in dysfunctional soil.

Stacey “Crow” Fortune leaves her life in Toronto and comes home to Cape Breton “to go down in a blaze of impulsive, outrageous, scandalicious, truth-bombing glory” after she finds out she has three inoperable brain tumours.

Inoperable brain tumours sound depressing, right? But it’s too full of unconventional characters and good times to be depressing. And Crow herself is full of humour about her situation. She’s taking it on with everything she’s got. In Amy Spurway’s words, “For Cape Bretoners, laughing in spite of hardship is part of who we are.

So, what is there to laugh about?

When Crow comes home, she imagines she’s come home to die, and to be taken care of by her mother. But life is not finished with Crow. She meets up with her old friends, enemies and flames, who she still refers to as Willy the Gimp, Duke the Puke and Becky Chickenshit (to name a few). It’s like being back in high school whether she likes it or not: her mother cooks her endless amounts of her favourite broccoli casserole; she hooks up with Willy the Gimp, her old high school “friend with benefits”, and amply partakes of his pot; and she’s reunited with her friend Char who is a new mom, a bit off her rocker, and who manages to convince Crow (along with a bottle of wine) to shave off all her hair.

After much preening, I surmise that shaving my head was a terrible idea. One minute, I catch a glimpse of myself in the door of the microwave, with a little bit of soft light behind me and my chin tilted just so, and, ‘Ahhh, there she is. 1990s Sinead O’Connor.’ Then I go take a piss, and as I’m reaching for the toilet paper I glance up into the mirror, ‘Jesus Christ! What’s Gollum doing in my mother’s bathroom?’

The friendless, homeless, hairless end-of-life trajectory taking shape here is not the swan song I expected.

And that’s just a drop in the bucket. You think things can’t get much worse for Crow, and then they do. There is surprise after surprise in this book, and I can’t tell you about any of them! Suffice it to say that there is never a dull moment. I mean, it’s Cape Breton after all. Settle in with some tea and squares, get your head out of your arse, and enjoy the ride.

If I were inclined to believe that the almighty Universe is preoccupied with sending middle-aged, lower middle-class white ladies divine cosmic messages about what they should or should not be doing with their existence, I might interpret the events of late as a series of none too subtle signs that my plans to live and die on this island was, in fact, a bad one.

Crow is full of elements readers are looking for in a good read: wit, adventure, twists, and a lot of heart.

“And then there’s the bigger, more grandiose questions about will happen when I’m gone,” Crow considers. “Where am I going? Anywhere? Nowhere? Somewhere? Somewhere good? Will there be tea and squares and laughing and crying and swearing there, because if there isn’t, well then I don’t want to go.”

Words to live by…

Don’t be so contrary all your life, take a day off.

Some days, I feel like dying. But not today. Today, there’s shit to do.


Further Reading:

Review at Pickle Me This:The adjective “brave” gets thrown around all too often in regards to literature, but I’m going to pitch it here, because it’s right for a variety of reasons. First of all, a book about death—and mental illness, and disability, and abortion, and spousal abuse, and class, and poverty—and the narrative takes no shortcuts or shies away from the hard stuff. I kept waiting for the part where it veered off course or fell into the saccharine, but that point never happened. Crow delighted me and amazed me the further I read, with its freshness, its daring, its refusal to conform (and the projectile vomiting).”

Review at The Star: “Angry, petty, disillusioned, sharp-tongued, battered and bruised by the years, prone to snap decisions and judgments, and yet not a little scared of dying at 40, she’s a complex and contradictory figure whose narrating tones relay very human traits — fallibility and indomitability, blindness and insight — via homespun, salty language.”

Interview with Amy Spurway at The Signal, in which she discusses how she started writing fiction, how growing up in Cape Breton has influenced her writing, and what she hopes readers will get out of the book: “My goal in writing this book is making people laugh and making people cry — ideally, both at the same time. If people walk away having had a good chuckle, and maybe a good sniffle, I’m deeply satisfied.

Thank you to Goose Lane Editions for sending me a copy of this book!

29 thoughts on “Crow by Amy Spurway

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Your description reminds me a wee bit of Victoria Redel’s Before Everything which also dealt with death in a no nonsense kind of way although Crow sounds much more off the wall.

    • Naomi says:

      They do sound similar… but, you’re right, Crow is probably much more off-the-wall! (“Off-the-wall” being a very good descriptor for “Crow”.)

  2. James (The Miramichi Reader) says:

    I just couldn’t get into this book. For a thirty – something she seemed quite immature. Then, does this happen when people go back home after being away, meeting old flames and so on? It was a little too contemporary for my tastes, but I’ll share your review around (as usual). 😁

    • Naomi says:

      Oh, that’s too bad, James!
      I agree that she does seem immature at times, but I also think that’s likely to happen to adults who move back home with their mothers. And then get caught up in the lives of their friends who don’t all seem to have matured over the years. And knowing you’re going to die can probably lead to reckless behaviour in some people. I found, though, that as the book went on, and other serious things happened to her (I don’t know how far you got in the book – did you finish it?) she started to act more her age. She had to, for the sake of herself and her family. (That’s the part that is full of heart.)
      Thanks for sharing, as always! 🙂

  3. whatmeread says:

    Despite the topic, this sounds a little too much like a feel-good book to me. I’ve been trying to avoid those after reading a couple that were cloyingly unrealistic.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m not going to tell you that everything that happens in this book is completely realistic, but I enjoyed the story-telling so much that it didn’t matter to me.
      It might be thought of as “feel-good”, but I’d be more likely to describe it as an “off-the-wall romp” (to borrow “off-the-wall” from Susan, above).

  4. annelogan17 says:

    Oh I just read Kerry Clare’s review of this, and now you! Gosh I love the sound of this, but I’ve never reviewed for GooseLane before…is it Corey that does their publicity still?

  5. wadholloway says:

    Reading your blog is very good for my geography. Found Cape Breton – is that next door to Anne of Green Gables? Your emphasis on the location made me wonder if they are well known for being country yokels out there. Also, we had a fortyish daughter come home to live for a few years while she finished uni. Loved having her but was it good for her maturity? Maybe not.

    • Naomi says:

      Cape Breton is an island attached to the mainland of Nova Scotia by a causeway. So, part of Nova Scotia, but also separate. Anne of Green Gables is set in Prince Edward Island, which is close to both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
      My parents have six kids, and have had most of us home at one point or another over the years for various reasons. Mainly the two boys, actually, now that I think about it…

  6. buriedinprint says:

    The title alone caught my attention but I was a little put-off by some of the description and response. The conversation here about whether it’s more feel-good or off-the-wall does intrigue me though. And I do appreciate your commentary on the im/maturity of the main character. Despite my initial reservations, you’ve convinced me to give it a try!

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad! It’s definitely not a book to read if you have trouble with unlikable characters, but I know that doesn’t bother you. I’d also say that a book about young adults who don’t seem to have grown up yet is not usually my cup of tea, but I thought this one was well done. And, of course, that’s not *really* what it’s about.

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