“Sitting Practice,” by Caroline Adderson
A Canadian author’s sophomore novel deals with the serious subjects of disability and unrequited incestuous love, but brims over with life and laughter as it provokes the reader to reflect.
This is Caroline Adderson’s second novel — and one filled with humor, likable characters and great writing that make for an easy weekend read.
Ross and Iliana are three weeks into their marriage when a car accident and a moving tennis ball change the dynamics of their lives and lead them both into a journey of self-reflection and faith.
Ross Alexander is a funny, charismatic and passionate chef who runs his own business, Reel Food, catering to the film industry. He meets Iliana, a nurse, after he has surgery on his nose because of a history of snoring. She is tall, beautiful, reserved and athletic, and when Ross first sees her he can tell just by watching her walk across the room that she is his opposite.
Iliana comes from a family with rigid religious values. “You were damned if you did not accept Jesus Christ as your savior, yet faith was a gift from God, not something you could go out and acquire on your own.” As an adult she struggled with faith. “Who in their right mind, she wondered now, could endorse so frustrating and cruel a paradox?” Her parents chose not to attend Iliana and Ross’s wedding. They did not trust or believe in the secular world, especially people — even their daughter — who did not share their beliefs.
Their love story also includes Ross’s twin sister, Bonnie, who lives her life searching for “Mr. Right” but finding only betrayal and loss because she constantly compares them unfavorably to Ross, with whom she is in love. Bonnie has a son, Bryce, who is a delight in Ross’s otherwise heavy and darkly comic relationship with his sister.
Throughout much of the story Ross deals with his the guilt he assumes for the accident, which causes Iliana’s once toned and tall body to become wheel chair bound. It was fascinating to read how the more Ross suffered the more Iliana “let go” to what was and accepted her limitations by training her physical body within its new limitations. She seemed more alive and aware of herself after the accident. Perhaps when we lose an ability that we take for granted, our other faculties heighten to fill the loss?
She reveals her suffering in her loss of intimacy with Ross. “Never would she be suspected of an affair because no one suspected her desire. The chair had neutered her.” These two sentences are powerful. It made me think of the countless times I perceived people in wheelchairs to be somehow detached, asexual, or fragile.
Adderson illuminated many thoughts for me that I might never have had the opportunity to think about… What if? … What if this were me? Iliana may have lost the use of her physical body from the waist down but this did not diminish her need or desire to be touched. Ross, like myself, failed to recognize that just because her external vessel had changed, internally she was still a woman, longing and desiring warmth and love.
Although I really liked this book there were many times I lost interest in the story due to the many flashbacks. Caroline Adderson writes wonderful dialogues but at times she seems to try too hard. When I first embarked on this tale I thought the title was going to reveal Ross’s Buddhist beliefs. In the end, however, I realized that true wisdom came by way of the reader, processing, interpreting and evaluating: how would a trauma like this change my life with or without a spiritual practice? The ending was a tad disappointing, because Iliana and Ross never reached a point of closure, but life’s drama is often like that.
While Iliana trained her physical body, Ross was training his mind with his Buddhist practice. Both seem to come to realizations to move forward in their own time and means, but I can’t help but wonder who is the one doing the “Sitting Practice”?