What would you do with $10 million? Katrina Onstad answers that question in her new novel
This interview originally aired on April 18, 2020.
Katrina Onstad is a writer and journalist originally from British Columbia now living in Toronto. Her books include the novels How Happy to Be and Everybody Has Everything and the nonfiction book The Weekend Effect.
Her latest, Stay Where I Can See You, is a novel about an Ontario woman named Gwen Kaplan who wins $10 million in the lottery. After the win, the family decides to move to Toronto. In the transition, cracks start to emerge, and Gwen is forced to confront her troubled past.
Onstad spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Stay Where I Can See You.
Living for the city
"I love cities as a setting. I read a lot of books set in cities, I'm drawn to cities and most people in the world live in cities now, for better or worse. They're great places to hide. They're great places for secrets and for reinvention.
They're great places to hide. They're great places for secrets and for reinvention.
"Both of those things are the substance of great fiction for me and the subject of this book too."
"I'm from Vancouver. Even though I've been in Toronto for a couple of decades, I still feel like an outsider here. This is a good position for a writer — and maybe writers feel like outsiders wherever they are.
"But I am feeling the shifts in Toronto in those two decades. This is something that we're experiencing throughout this country — this incredible gulf between the have and have-nots. And also the grind — the precariousness of work and our living situations. That was definitely the soil that I was tilling.
Toronto is a great landscape to explore those human vulnerabilities in.
"I started this novel about five years ago, at the dawn of the madness that is this era politically. Toronto is a great landscape to explore those human vulnerabilities in."
Hit the jackpot
"This novel had a lot of iterations. There was a version where it was a gross amount of money. There was another version where Gwen won a small amount of money.
"But I thought winning $10 million was kind of perfect. It's enough to upend a family and unearth these secrets, but it's also not obscene. What I really didn't want to do was a laundry list of consumption. The temptation would be like, 'Now we get a Tesla, now we go to Paris.' That seemed kind of gross.
But I thought winning $10 million was kind of perfect; it's enough to upend a family and unearth these secrets, but it's also not obscene.
"What I wanted was for them, when they did have those bursts of consumerism, for it to be kind of weird and strange and revealing of who they are — rather than just a kind of American Psycho-style like laundry list of wants."
"The city has become a scarce commodity. It's more expensive to live in cities now. We're at this funny shift, almost like a 'reverse flight.' People who went to the suburbs to have more space now want to come back to the city to have a different kind of space."
The city has become kind of a scarce commodity. It's more expensive to live in cities now.
"For this family, they were priced out of the city, which is a very common experience. This is the fun of this — what if you won [the lottery?] What would you do? It was a great jumping off point for a book.
"It's about getting back to the city that they couldn't afford to live in. And, of course, the city is the site of Gwen's past when she was an adolescent. This money is the key that unlocks the door to this dark past."
Katrina Onstad's comments have been edited for length and clarity.