I read Elizabeth Renzetti’s début novel, Based on a True Story, for a completely shallow reason: I have a little internet crush on the author and her husband, Doug Saunders, both of whom write for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. I enjoy their writing, and they seem like interesting people with cooler lives than mine. (Shit. They’re probably also people with Google alerts for their names. But opening a review of Based on a True Story with a little self-humiliation seems fitting, since its protagonists, Augusta and Frances, face some humiliations of their own).
Renzetti employs familiar women’s fiction and chick lit elements, but there’s a bitter, satirical edge to her story (one reviewer describes it as “a faint taste of arsenic“). Just as I was thinking to myself “This is like chick lit written by, I don’t know . . . Evelyn Waugh?” Renzetti dropped in an allusion to Waugh’s Hollywood satire The Loved One. I felt quite smug until I realized that the novel’s epigraph is from Waugh’s book; it wasn’t cleverness, just my subconscious memory at work.
At her best, Renzetti rises to the tart-tongued aphorism of that epigraph, which reads “Her heart was broken perhaps but it was a small inexpensive organ of local manufacture.” Based on a True Story is often darkly funny, but it’s also serious about the consequences of bad behaviour (and addiction) and the pain of failure at work and relationships. Truer to its women’s genre roots than to Waugh, perhaps, the ending is hopeful. I enjoyed it very much. Continue reading