THE LIST OF LAST CHANCES
Caitlin Press, 2021
Reviewed by Tammi Carto
Ruthie is 38 years old when she catches her boyfriend having sex on their couch with “Flower Shop Girl.” On Valentine’s day, no less. Cue the downward spiral.
Ruthie lands single and unemployed on her best friend Jules’ couch. She sinks into a darkness fuelled by anger and betrayal until one day Jules forces her to answer an ad placed by the son of an elderly woman looking for someone to drive his mother from PEI to his house in BC. Ruthie considers loosening her grip on the wine bottle and abandoning her pajamas and lumpy couch, but protests. “I couldn’t make my way to the grocery store lately, let alone across the entire country.”
Overwhelmed by the drastic turn her life has taken, Ruthie has no clear sense of direction, but also nothing to lose. In a moment of recklessness, she presses “send” to e-mail her resume. “I didn’t want this job. I desperately wanted this job. I didn’t care if my resume wasn’t good enough. I prayed that my resume would shine. I didn’t want to leave the island. I wanted to get so far away that I couldn’t remember what happened here.” In the video interview that follows, she senses a glimmer of hope.
Ruthie gets the job and prepares to help Kay, the mother in question, and then pass her off to her son David. When she meets Kay, Ruthie realizes she is far from feeble, in fact more than capable of making her own decisions and executing them. Kay refuses to quietly accept her conservative son’s designs on her future.
Kay’s “Road Trip Checklist” is a stark contrast to David’s “Very Important Itinerary,” and Kay implores Ruthie to be her partner on what may be “equal parts sightseeing tour and sin-seeking, with a dash down memory lane.” Kay convinces her by saying, “If you must go on a journey, might as well make it an adventure.” The two women then embark on a cross-country quest that involves visiting a penis-shaped rock, photo-ops across provincial borders, and dances with the locals in small-town Saskatchewan. As you might expect, they find more than a change of scenery.
Meanwhile, Ruthie is torn between David’s expectations and Kay’s wild ways. Through regular check-ins along the journey, David and Ruthie become friends, with a hint of something more. Ruthie’s guilt about keeping Kay’s secrets tests the trust David has placed in her.
“Thievery and sex toys and visits to old haunts. I just wanted to drive and get to David. Correction: I wanted to get Kay to David and be done with the entire thing. Finish the job and never see either of them again. It didn’t feel as easy as I’d imagined it would be.”
When Ruthie secretly plans to re-connect Kay with her distant past, information comes to light that threatens the friendship the women have formed across the kilometres. Ruthie realizes “My plotting until now had been a complicated but organized weaving, but it had suddenly become a tangle.”
After many disagreements and tequila shots, Ruthie faces a choice: hover in the painful shadows of the past, or burst anew into a life that awaits. With a lifetime behind her, and a desire to live the rest of her days to the fullest, Kay illuminates possibilities Ruthie hadn’t been able to see—if only she can summon the courage to embrace them. Myers edited the non-fiction collection BIG: Stories About Life in Plus-Sized Bodies (Caitlin Press, 2020) and is a former journalist who lives outside Vancouver BC, where she works as a freelance writer and editor. She holds degrees in journalism and psychology from TRU and UBC, respectively, and is an alumnus of the Writer’s Studio at SFU.