A Handbook for Beautiful People
a novel by Jennifer Spruit

260 Pages
October 28, 2017
New Fiction All Titles Novel



A Handbook for Beautiful People a novel by Jennifer Spruit

When twenty-two-year-old Marla finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she wishes for a family, but faces precariousness: an uncertain future with her talented, exacting boyfriend, Liam; constant danger from her roommate, Dani, a sometime prostitute and entrenched drug addict; and the unannounced but overwhelming needs of her younger brother, Gavin, whom she has brought home for the first time from deaf school. Forcing her hand is Marla's fetal alcohol syndrome, which sets her apart but also carries her through. When Marla loses her job and breaks her arm in a car accident, Liam asks her to marry him. It's what she’s been waiting for: a chance to leave Dani, but Dani doesn’t take no for an answer. Marla stays strong when her mother shows up drunk, creates her own terms when Dani publicly shames her, and then falls apart when Gavin attempts suicide. It rains, and then pours, and when the Bow River finally overflows, flooding Marla’s entire neighbourhood, she is ready to admit that she wants more for her child than she can possibly give right now. Marla's courage to ask for help and keep her mind open transforms everyone around her, cementing her relationships and proving to those who had doubted her that having a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder does not make a person any less noble, wise or caring.

"Wonderful, heartfelt, heartbreaking—I can't recommend this novel highly enough."

—Annabel Lyon, author of The Sweet Girl

"Jennifer Spruit has such a distinct, poignant voice, and her briiliant debut novel A Handbook For Beautiful People highlights this perfectly. Through sharp characters and their complications, a driven narrative develops, enveloping us before we have a chance to judge. Jump into this novel. It will sweep you up."

—Joseph Boyden, author of The Orenda

Jennifer Spruit grew up in Lloydminster, AB/SK, alongside pump jacks, farm machinery, and its endless, sparkling winter sky. Her affair with writing began with a Grade One story about a tractor, but she has since become engaged in writing about people. She studied Creative Writing at UBC and now lives in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island, where she enjoys playing folk and bluegrass, teaching kids, and rowing a blue canoe. Her work has appeared in Arc, The Antigonish Review, Prairie Fire Magazine, and SubTerrain Magazine, among others. A Handbook for Beautiful People is her debut novel. She is currently at work on a second novel.

     Marla doesn’t believe Dani—thinks it’s indigestion or bad Indian
takeout from the other night—but she does the test anyway, in secret
the next morning before work. The pee stick blinks at her from the
floor with its two eyes. This is the same as all the high school math
Marla failed to understand, like infinity is bundled up right here in
this bathroom, her life suddenly wide open with incalculable geometry.
She stares at this plastic gossip on the cracked linoleum, and then
checks the box to confirm that two lines means what she thinks they
do. Pregnant. Of course.
     Marla shakes a bit, but reminds herself not to be stupid: one has
to go about these things properly. She pulls her pants up and buttons
them. Dani’s right—she is bigger. Marla mimes an oversized womb
unfolding out of her front, curving her fingers like she’s holding a skirt
full of peaches. That’s a pretty happy image.
     First things first: Marla grabs the Calgary Flames schedule magnet
from the fridge for easier counting. If she’s sick and testing positive,
then she’s what, six weeks into this? Maybe more with a size increase.
She thought it was just the winter blahs. Marla counts thirty-four weeks
from now and runs out of season. Next summer. June? July?
     This is what she knows: a baby means a family. It means making
scrambled eggs for breakfast holding the baby on her hip. It means
birthday cakes and little friends with mommies and the wading pool
in the summer. Car seats and story books and playschool. It means all
of the things she never had.
     Marla looks in the mirror and tells herself to snap out of it. A baby
is forever. She bites her lip. But this would be her baby. Her very own.
She pictures Liam holding a baby, cuddling it while it claps its pudgy
hands, but cuts it before the fantasy baby can grab Liam’s wire-rim glasses
and spit up all over his crisp shirt. She wants to call him, but all of her
mirror preening has made Marla nearly late for work.
     Last: If she closes her eyes, she can believe everything will be just
fine. A baby. She doesn’t deserve such wonder.

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