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- Interview and reading on NeWest Press Audio
The reunited Lund siblings, separated as children by Social Services, find that family, whether held together by blood or by choice, can be both a curse and a blessing, an obstacle and a point of connection.
Set in Vancouver during the economically turbulent year of 2008, A Brief View from the Coastal Suite explores the Lunds' differing values in respect to relationships, money, and environment – all markers for a materialistic society that is becoming increasingly inhospitable. Cleo struggles to find time for her challenging job as an architectural designer and for the demands of her family; Mandalay, an artist and single parent, tries to raise her twin sons uncontaminated by the materialistic values of their lawyer father; and Cliff attempts to run a landscape company with his spoiled younger brother, Ben, and to accommodate the ever-increasing demands of his Estonian mail-order bride.
Karen Hofmann’s brilliant sequel to her novel What is Going to Happen Next skillfully explores societal attitudes and the instability of personal and public lives in a world that values money above all else.
Excerpt from “Before”
May 18th, 2000
ANOTHER WAVE COMING, Cleo says, watching the monitor. They’d decided on wave; Mandalay has practised visualizing the rollers on the beach near Phuket, where she had once flung herself into the bright aquamarine surf.
The gap between the spike beginning to grow on the monitor and the clamping of her spine and stomach is just long enough for a wild hope to surface that it won’t be so painful this time.
It’s not a wave. It’s a tsunami.
Starting to subside, Cleo says, and the deluge of pain briefly abates.
I can’t do this, Mandalay says.
A guttural howl like nothing she’s heard before erupts from her innards. Is that her?
Breathe, Cleo says, steadily. Breathe, Mandalay. Breathe.
I can’t I can’t, she says.
But then she can. Mandalay finds her breath; she pins her attention to it. Her body begins to do what it needs to do. There is much pain, but the pain is not her. She visualizes diving and rolling in the warm waves, at Phuket. The waves had tumbled her over, but she’d learned to give herself over to them, and she would find herself lying in the shallow ebbing water, laughing, after they retreated.
She’d been with Benedict, then. Her last boyfriend before Duane.
Duane isn’t here, now. She can’t imagine him being here, wanting him here. God, no, she’d said, when Cleo had wondered.
She rides the waves and rides them, but then it’s too much, she’s being beaten up, there’s no space to catch her breath. A vortex. Roll with it, she tries to remember, but her body isn’t hers now. She’s lost her tether to it.
And now the first twin’s emergence. There’s a sudden cessation of violence. Mandalay feels an astonishing calm.
Cleo’s nephew slides out head first in a rush of blood and water, a fish, an otter, a wet, red human. He takes a breath.
They let Cleo hold him in a warmed towel for a few seconds, after they suction his nose and mouth. He looks like one of my own children, like Olivia, Cleo says. The nurse takes him from Cleo’s arms and puts him on Mandalay’s chest.
WHEN THE NURSE puts her son on her chest, Mandalay feels this: that she and he have been travelling towards each other for all time, and have finally arrived.
She’s able to hold to that sweet, calm feeling even when they tell her that the other twin is in trouble, that they can’t wait any longer. It’s not what she wanted, but she understands. Someone lifts her first-born son from her arms, and Cleo is signing a form, and cold disinfectant is being swiped across her belly and she knows that she is going to be anesthetized and cut and it was not supposed to go this way.
But she knows it will be okay.
Author-Curated Discussion Questions
1. Does the title A Brief View from the Coastal Suite have symbolic significance in the story? What could the “coastal suite” represent? Which characters could be said to have a “brief view” of something?
2. How does the Lund siblings’ history — their tragic family breakup — affect their ongoing life decisions? And for readers familiar with the first novel, What is Going to Happen Next, are the characters better or worse off in 2008 than we might have expected?
3. The city of Vancouver is the main setting for this book: Cleo and Cliff work in the city, though they live in neighbouring municipalities, and Mandalay lives right in metropolitan Vancouver. How does this setting shape the experiences and desires of the characters? Is it significant that it’s Vancouver, and not Toronto or Seattle or London?
4. The novel’s point of view is shared between three characters: Mandalay, Cleo, and Cliff. Which do you identify with most closely, and why? Why is the fourth Lund sibling, Ben, not given a primary voice in the story?
5. Each of the marriages (or co-parenting arrangements) in the novel contains a great deal of tension. How is this tension related to the setting — twenty-first century Western society? What elements hold each relationship together, and which pull them apart?
6. Each of the three primary couples is formed of two characters with very different backgrounds: geographic, economic, cultural. How are these differences a factor in the relationship tensions? Which of the relationships seems most likely to evolve into something more functional?
7. At one point in the novel, Cleo remarks that she doesn’t have time for a weekend getaway with her lover. Why does Cleo, with her already overextended life, engage in an affair? What is she looking for, or attracted to, in Lee? Should she stay with Lee or remain with Trent?
8. Mandalay is at odds with most of the other characters over values and lifestyle choices for herself and her twin sons. What does she want for her sons? Is she naïve or too idealistic to function well? Does her ethos change, during the arc of the story?
9. Cliff, who doesn’t have children, views his nephews in terms of potential legacy — someone to carry on the Lund Brothers name. What do their offspring represent to the parents in the novel? How do Cleo, Trent, Mandalay, and Duane — and let’s throw in Crystal — view their children? Do these views of parent-child roles evolve over the generations, or are patterns and expectations simply repeated? What does the novel suggest is needed to be a “good-enough” parent?
10. Friends and business relationships feature briefly but significantly in the novel. How are these relationships similar to and different from the familial ones? What do their friendships reveal about each of the main characters?
11. The novel ends with two calamities and a minor triumph. What elements connect all three? Do the outcomes for the characters feel inevitable or surprising? How does the final image of the two fish in the bucket affect our sense of the novel’s outcomes?
"In A Brief View from the Coastal Suite, Karen Hofmann’s richly drawn characters spin in a changing world, tangled up in the messiness of love and family, the pressures of work and success, and the unending search for a sense of self as age and experience shape their lives. This is a novel of stunning elegance, sensitivity, and compassion that revels in the enthralling complexity of everyday life.”
"Hofmann’s prose is captivating. She excels at writing everyday scenes. Some thrum with tension; others are characterized by warmth. Her characters’ reflections are variously evocative and familiar." full review
“Karen Hofmann’s novels deserve a place on the shelves of discerning readers across the country.... A Brief View from the Coastal Suite ... [is] a rich and vivid read capturing a place in time that serves to illuminate the present moment.” full review