Following the birth of their twins three years ago, Nick and Maya have grown apart. Having given up her job as a highflying divorce lawyer to devote herself to the children, Maya is becoming increasingly insecure, looking to her therapist, the children’s nanny, her personal trainer and self-help books for “the answer”, when what she really wants is her husband’s attention. But Nick, an advertising director, has come to the conclusion it’s time to leave. Confiding in the couple’s mutual friend, Adam Gray, he realises that, with Maya now a stay-at-home mum, he’ll be heavily penalised financially in the divorce settlement. Unless he can play at being a better man, spending more time with his children and encouraging his wife back to work.
they meet in a dive bar. Not a real one, of course, but one of those self-conscious places that used to be a hardware store and is now called the Hardware Store, even though it’s really just a place where people in their thirties can feel comfortable swearing, drinking musty draft beer and smoking on the pavement outside. It’s supposed to be authentic, but it makes Nick wonder: What’s any more real about getting drunk in a place that used to sell hammers and nails? What if it had been a tanning salon instead?
As I turned the pages, I began to worry about how it would end, not so much for the characters – although I did care about them – but for the integrity of the novel. It was the kind of story that promises a happy ending, but how could the author give us one without resorting to cliché? Let me tell you that the ending didn’t disappoint, and even brought a tear to my eye, but of course I’m not going to give the game away. But, having received my copy from the Curtis Brown Book Group, I did have the opportunity to ask Leah McLaren about this in our online discussion:
I really enjoyed this novel, although it’s not my usual kind of read, and I thought the ending was cleverly handled. Did this come easily to you or did you struggle with the balance between cheerfulness and gravitas?
"The ending, I have to say, sort of wrote itself. It was actually one of the few passages in book that was barely changed at all. Everything else got tinkered with quite a bit but not that final chapter. I'm so glad you felt the combination of emotional depth and lightness, even joy, because that is exactly what I was going for. And I cannot tell you how lovely it is for a writer to hear from a reader who actually experienced the book as it was intended. Fiction is such a crapshoot that way."
A Better Man is Canadian Leah McLaren’s second novel, but the first published in the UK, by Corvus Books.