The Erratics

Table of Contents

  • Essay 1: “My past is not merely faded… It’s not there.” How do the events of the past shape the lives of the individuals in The Erratics?
  • Essay 2: “Vicki’s mother is the most destructive presence in The Erratics.” Do you agree?
  • Essay 3: “To tell the stories of who we are or who we think we are.” What role does storytelling play in The Erratics?
  • Essay 4: “The Erratics is a disturbing account of how conflicting values can fracture relationships.” Discuss.
  • Essay 5: How does The Erratics explore ideas about power?
  • Essay 6: “…she squeezes my hand and we stand together like that, looking out the window…” How is the unsettled relationship between Vicki and her sister repaired as they cope with their difficult family circumstances?
  • Essay 7: “She has her truth and I have mine…” How is the idea of truth explored in The Erratics?
  • Essay 8: “Family is the most powerful influence on the individuals in this text.” To what extent do you agree?

“My past is not merely faded… It’s not there.” How do the events of the past shape the lives of the individuals in The Erratics?

Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s memoir The Erratics is a chilling account of how two sisters, bound by their traumatic childhood upbringing, grow out of their adverse experiences and regain control of their lives. Vicki’s sister experiences intense bouts of frustration and anger towards her mother due to abuse in her childhood, evoking waves of resentment that consumes her psyche into adulthood. Similarly, Vicki’s adverse childhood experiences leaves her with lost memories, yet her lingering obligation to take care of her ageing parents only continues to rehash her traumatic past. Laveau-Harvie highlights the great influence that one’s childhood has on their individual development, in that traumatic incidents in the past are permanently scarring to one’s psyche. However, it is not only doom and gloom, as Laveau-Harvie demonstrates how they are able to move past their adverse childhood trauma and take back control of their adult lives. Therefore, even though Vicki and her sister are shown to have suffered horrifying childhood abuse from their mother which echoes into their adult lives, they are still ultimately able to come to terms with it and reconcile with each other and their family.

First, Vicki’s sister’s traumatic childhood memories are shown to leave behind mental scars that are nigh impossible to remove. A key incident was Vicki’s sister being a bystander, watching her mother use “sewing shears” to saw through Vicki’s ponytail against her will, which left behind an imprint of fear and anxiety. Even into her adolescence and adulthood, she still “shudders” when a girl with a ponytail passes her in the street, highlighting her difficulty in processing and moving on from traumatic events, even if they happened years ago. This description of the core childhood memory forces the reader to imagine the immense degree of manipulation, intimidation and lies experienced by Vicki’s sister as a vulnerable child, which continues to affect her life. Furthermore, her anger simmers within her, which Laveau-Harvie parallels to that of the Japanese beetle, which conceals itself under the bark of fir trees and emerges to “kill its host” once the weather turns warmer in spring. As a result, these descriptions of Vicki’s sister explain why she still holds so much resentment and anger towards her mother even years later, which continually erodes her sanity. Therefore, the terrible childhood experiences that Vicki’s sister went through took the form of anxiety and indignation, which inevitably will remain with her for the rest of her life.

While the lasting impact of adverse childhood experiences remains a torment on Vicki’s sister’s mentality, Vicki falls victim to a different kind of burden. Vicki suffered through similar traumatic events in her childhood, such as having grown up in a Gothic house of horrors with the looming threat of a mother who is constantly out to “get them”. However, Vicki’s memories slip beyond her reach, which Laveau-Harvie characterises as a “blessing in disguise” as she doesn’t have to live in pain, unlike her sister. Yet due to the loss of her memories, she feels a strong obligation to help her ageing mother and father to “salvage” their relationship as “blood calls to blood”, forcing her to reconcile with her abusers. As she cares for them, Vicki’s mother repeatedly labels Vicki as a troublemaker who is likely to ‘make work for [her]’, continuing the harsh cycle of abuse and trauma. The effects of her past also finally catch up to Vicki, as she is shown to be pessimistic and frequently contemplate death into her adult life. On her flight to Hong Kong, as she looks out the window, she imagines her plane crashing into the “jagged” peaks of the Rockies. Similarly, when she is travelling to Shawnessy, Vicki envisions herself in a “prairie apocalypse” of overturned trailers, and then making the headline news in the “Okotoks Chronicle”. Such visualisations of doom and gloom demonstrate that the spectre of Vicki’s traumatic upbringing continues to haunt her even into her adult life, and her frequent imaginings of death are evidence that she never fully recovers from the damage done to her in her childhood.

Despite the clear scars left on both their psyches, the memoir is illustrative of the capabilities of Vicki and her sister to resist the influences of their traumatic past, accentuating their sense of resilience and leaving readers on a more optimistic note. The sisters reunite under the circumstances of taking care of their elderly mother, during which Vicki’s sister “squeezes her hand” and they “stand together” looking out of the window. This soft moment of affection between sisters is in stark contrast to the jarring descriptions of their shared abusive experiences described throughout the entire memoir. Furthermore, the reconciliation between Vicki and their father helps to soften the traumatic blows of their past. He finally acknowledges “all that you girls do for me” after Vicki and her sister save him from their mother’s attempts to brainwash and starve him, highlighting the possibilities of characters to move on from their past and regain control over their lives. Overall, these snapshots of family reconciliation are an encouraging sign that while the damage caused to Vicki and her sister in their past may have left permanent scars, it is not impossible to overcome. As a result, Laveau-Harvie leaves the reader on a more optimistic note for their futures and shows the potential to grow past adverse childhood experiences, through the examples of Vicki and her sister.

Through the depiction of Vicki’s sister’s intense resentment towards her mother and Vicki’s frequent contemplations of death even into their adult lives, Laveau-Harvie demonstrates how both sisters never fully overcome the damage dealt to them in their childhood. Vicki and her sister are both bound by their traumatic childhood experiences, yet they express themselves in different ways: Vicki’s sister’s anger simmers beneath her skin, while Vicki herself develops an intense anxiety and pessimism towards the world around her. Vicki’s choice to take care of her parents further indicates the inescapable burden of her traumatic childhood that she must bear, showcasing the lifelong impact of her adverse childhood experiences. As a result, Laveau-Harvie establishes the notion that one’s childhood is highly influential on their emotional maturity as an adult, as such traumatic experiences are almost impossible to overcome as it becomes consolidated into their personal identity. However, she also highlights the potential for characters to grow and develop through the difficulties posed by adverse childhood experiences, shining a light of optimism for readers to contemplate their own lives.

“Vicki’s mother is the most destructive presence in The Erratics.” Do you agree?

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