Johnny Major is larger than life, even when he is on the brink of death. Gale Zoe Garnett’s novel, Savage Adoration, is told from the perspective of Johnny’s first-born daughter Ellissina (a.k.a.: Ellissa) as she rushes to her father’s hospital bed after he’s had a heart attack at the age of 89. Carefully crafted from Ellissa’s present day situation combined with her nostalgic memories of her past, it is obvious from the start that she adores her father savagely.
Johnny, a Sicilian-born self-made millionaire, has a lot of baggage with five ex-wives and four children however nothing can prepare her for the arrival of her father’s fifth wife and her twin daughters, one obese, the other anorexic. While Ellissa is praying for her father to pull through, Mareike (the fifth ex) desires his death more than anything as she anticipates her inheritance. Ellissa and her brother Davey find themselves not only having to watch helplessly as their father lies in a coma, but also have to stand guard against Mareike and her daughters’ attempts to cut the cord.
After Johnny succumbs in the face of old age, Ellissa has the task of bringing his body back to Sicily. This final journey that she takes with her father is one of discovery; both about herself and her inability to commit to any man other than her father and brother, as well as about who her father was to others. She realizes that her father was a surrogate father to many people, especially in his hometown-protecting and helping others to learn and grow. This magnanimity shrouds her father in even more mythology as the small town where he is buried reveres him ecstatically.
Geographically set in the UK, Montreal, New York and Italy, this novel weaves itself through how we mythologize people to how damaging it can be when the reality of the myth is revealed. It explores the savage adoration that can exist between parent and child, as well as the damage and wounds broken relationships can inflict on children. Most of all, this novel explores what happens when we realize that our parents are people too, with fault lines marring them, and whether or not they can still be those magical creatures that protected us from bad things, or if we need to let them go. (Sara Ritchie)
by Gale Zoe Garnett, $22.95, 218 pgs, Exile Editions, 144483 Southgate Road 14, General Delivery, Holstein, ON, N0G 2A0