Supermarket Baby is the debut book by Susan Flanagan, that focuses on the misadventures of Henry Puddester, an absent-minded retired civil servant, whose tale begins when he is on a quest to buy flu medication. As the title suggests, he inadvertently grabs the wrong shopping cart in the supermarket, and failing to realize that his purchases have disappeared and been replaced by a baby in a car seat, still proceeds to the check-out. Thinking to save the baby from some imagined evil-doer, he flees from the store with the baby.
To an alert reader, it would seem that the entire saga could have been told in, at most, half the length that the author writes to bring us to its conclusion. However, Flanagan has chosen to take some side trips that serve to occupy space and attempts to provide the reader with a few chuckles. What distracts and proves confusing is that Flanagan seems to jump back and forth in time, going from “now” to “ one hour earlier”. Similarly we go from a scene of Chase the Ace in Goulds to back to the main story, only to return to the Goulds fundraiser at the conclusion of the entire tale.
Meanwhile, we are treated to the harrowing problems of Dolores, a hippie-type from Vancouver who has driven her vintage station-wagon to St. John’s by sleeping in her car at any Walmart parking lot she can find. Upon arriving in the province, she first hits a moose and seriously dents her beloved vehicle, but then further damages it when she hits a parking meter just when a thief is in the process of robbing it.
Other side stories which at first seem insignificant soon follow: a huge black bear roams the Avalon Peninsula and mauls a chicken plant worker to death, Henry’s son falls of his long board and breaks his collarbone, and Dolores ends up in the hospital. Throughout all of these side stories, the reader is left to wonder when or if all these various characters, incidents, and time frames will ever converge.
Although I am a rather keen reader and not easily distracted, I must admit that I was often confused as to where the author was going with this.
Eventually Henry, having already spent a night in the lock-up the day of his arrest, does have his day in Court where he is given the choice between six months under house-arrest or pay a $50,000 fee. Henry’s wife, who is a kind-hearted soul who can’t stand to see a wounded animal, or person, invites Dolores to come and stay with them while she recovers from her injuries at the same time as the son is recovering from the collarbone injury.
Henry’s six month sentence prevents him from making a motorbike run from Montreal back to St. John’s, a journey he had promised to make to his deceased mother. Unfortunately his bike has already been shipped to Montreal and is waiting for him.
And then the reader must jump back – or in this case forward –to Goulds, where a fully recuperated Dolores, accompanied by the now-healed son, win the Chase the Ace draw and become instant millionaires. Dolores pays the fine and Henry can go on his bike run, so everything works out.
The constant jumps in the narrative greatly distracted from the story, interrupted its flow and rhythm, and made it confusing, even for readers like me, who normally don’t have that much trouble with time jumps or flashbacks. It is only because of the author’s good command of the written word and the chuckles inserted at various point in the story is redeemed somewhat.
Supermarket Baby is the winner of the 2019 Percy Janes First Novel Award, but unfortunately the unnecessarily confusing timeline means I find it difficult to give it a high rating.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Gerald J. Roy is a former Federal Human Rights mediator and educator. Originally from Québec, he has retired to Port aux Basques to be near his family. His voracious book reading appetite trends towards westerns, spy novels, thrillers and mysteries. Find him on Facebook or via email at: email@example.com.