The Aunties

Deborah Boucher
Outskirts Press (2018)
ISBN 9781478728375
Reviewed by Kimberly Luyckx for Reader Views (9/18)

What would any writer do with a box full of diaries that connect back to a time before WWI? In Deborah Boucher’s new novel, “The Aunties,” we get a chance to follow along as the book’s lead character and writer, Deb Meltzer, documents her family’s rich legacy in the hopes of creating the next great American novel.

This story is all about family. The tale begins at a funeral for the last surviving member of a generation of relatives. We understand the importance of the passing of Auntie Rose when it is revealed that Deb’s parents and other aunts and uncles are no longer in the picture. The adventure begins for the generation left behind when a box of diaries is discovered in the aunties’ attic. These family treasures offer information never before revealed along with clues that could finally vindicate the curious story of the family’s rich heritage. But as Deb digs deeper, she discovers the old letters from the aunties contradict one another, making it difficult to determine what is fact and what is fiction.

“The Aunties” stories start in New York City’s early 1900’s and are meticulously developed as they mature and progress - some all the way to Brazil. Despite the time and place, this collection of stories traces a generation of women by a writer and true custodian. This book within a book presents the pieces of a family’s memory in a most interesting manner.

As an author, Boucher has a striking flair for words. She is good at creating the imagery necessary for the reader to get a vivid picture of her characters. For instance, she details the grandmother in the painting as having a “meringue of blonde hair that crowns (her) head.” And, in another chapter she describes, “the blue velvet fainting couches and red silk settees were stuffed, so full of batting they resemble the derrieres of the matrons who sat on them.” There were times, however, when I thought that the author’s expert descriptive ability should be utilized to show rather than tell her story. And there is a lot of telling by her main character Deb.

Because this is a story within a story, there are not only transitions in time but there are also plenty of switches between perspectives. Some chapters are in the first person as the writer, Deb, communicates in present time while others are written in the third person as Deb relays the information from her relatives’ past collected from memoirs, scrapbooks and journals. And, the aunties and the grandmother each have their own unique version to tell. It’s interesting to see that even Deb, the writer and protagonist, struggles with these inconsistencies as she debates whether to present her compilation as a biography, memoir or historical fiction. Each time we are brought back into the present it is a treat to see Deb’s progress with the book - an honest peek into how an author processes material and develops her newfound perspective. 

In her book, “The Aunties,” Deborah Boucher provides a collection of stories from a past that traces the legacy of a generation of women. As a work of historical fiction, the book reflects on the period of the early 1900s and moves back and forth between it and the contemporary time frame in which Boucher’s main character, Deb, is searching for clues to her family’s heritage. I find “The Aunties” a stimulating and engrossing read. I enjoy a good historical fiction and Deborah Boucher’s book did not disappoint.

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