Anytime I’ve asked anyone what Leslie Vryenhoek’s new novel is about, people have always said, “It’s about debt.” Which actually turns out to be true, but makes the book sound much less interesting and engaging than it actually is. While I love a novel that has big ideas behind it, I don’t pick up a book to read about ideas; I want to read about people.
So, here’s what Ledger of the Open Hand is about, according to me: it’s about Meriel-Claire, who leaves her prairie small town to go to college in the 1980s and embarks on a lifelong friendship with her wealthy, gifted, larger-than-life roommate Daneen. Meriel-Claire thinks of herself as being a little smaller-than-life in comparison: her family, her background, her aspirations are all quite ordinary.
The book is about debt in the most basic sense that Meriel eventually ends up working as a debt counsellor, but it’s about debt in the deeper sense that it explores the debts, financial and emotional, that we end up owing each other — in friendship, in romance, and especially in families. The novel follows Meriel, Daneen, and Meriel’s family through decades of life, exploring how these debts accumulate and burden us, and how free we can ever actually be. Though there were moments throughout the book when I found myself wanting to shake Meriel a little and give her a good slap, to me that’s just a sign that I’m engaged with the book and caring about the characters. I found this an engaging and enjoyable read from the first page to the last.