A local writer with over twelve books in her bibliography, Ruth Latta is no stranger to the literary arts. And, perhaps taking the advice of that old chestnut “write what you know,” Latta’s latest novel Most of All deals primarily with the challenges of writing. Set in Ottawa, the narrative describes the chance meeting and burgeoning friendship of writer, Jan, and Kathleen, a resident of an elderly care facility whose life is all but behind her.
The main tension of the novel revolves around Jan’s desire to help Kathleen write a memoir about her life working for the government and overseas. As Jan interviews Kathleen, gathering material, she begins to discover much about her own life and how the decisions she’s made have affected the path of her own life.
The storyline skips around quite a bit, making this book more of a collection of scenes than a linear story. Each scene gives the reader a bit more insight into the two main characters, and many are interesting in their own right. At times, however, it is difficult to see why some of these stories have been included. Many of them do not seem to relate to the story as a whole beyond that they are episodes in the lives of these characters.
What’s interesting is that the book seems to be somewhat self-conscious about this. At one point, Kathleen asks Jan “Who’s going to be interested in all this?” and Jan fails to give her a satisfying answer. Yet, the main argument of the book seems to be that there is value to writing down the past, even if it is found in personal reflection. Both characters develop a new understanding for themselves as they delve deeper into their own past.
In that way, the scenes do have purpose, but it is one that is not easy to see or trace. One thing that can be said about these detours into the past is that they help make the characters more believable as people. We get to know their triumphs and their insecurities, and we discover that there is quite a bit beneath the surface.
For an Ottawa reader, one of the most pleasant parts of the novel is the accuracy with which it depicts this city, not only in the present, but through the ages. It’s clear that Latta did some research to ensure that her depiction was accurate, for the way in which the capital is described rings true. And while the downtown-located Goldengray retirement home exists only in Latta’s imagination, it is described in a way that brings it to life.
Ultimately, Most of All is a story of how we choose to live our life, and how that can be recaptured through reflection. It shows that writing is a way to understand the past and to prepare oneself for a future.
Ruth Latta is an Ottawa-based author and Apt613 Contributor. She publishes a monthly column for Forever Young Magazine and writes reviews for Canadian Materials. Most of All is available for Kindle via Amazon.