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Family secrets are unravelled as Red Deer author novelizes life of her steely, contradictory grandmother

‘I’ve seen her anger rise like an entity,’ writes author Susan Glasier
Red Deer author Susan Glasier will have a Jan. 28 reading of her new novel ‘She Was Never the Same,’ at the Red Deer Arts Council office at 4919-49th St. (Contributed photo)

Red Deer author Susan Glasier wrote her latest novel in a bid to understand her explosive and contradictory grandmother.

She Was Never the Same is a fictionalized account of the ornery woman’s life, which was littered with bombshell events, including rape, murder, illness and death.

Just how disagreeable was Glasier’s granny? As a child, the author recalls innocently asking her grandma whether the black-and-white photo on her desk was of Glasier’s grandpa, who had died before she was born.

“She slammed it down and said ‘Yes, But we don’t talk about him!’” recalled Glasier.

She was later to find out that her grandfather, whom she thought had died of the 1918 Spanish flu, had actually died of syphilis — just one of the many secrets in her family tree.

The discovery of her grandmother’s diary prompted Glasier to start putting the pieces together to resolve why the old woman was the way she was.

Her grandmother, Olive Amelia (Glasier changed names in the book to protect the legacy of illustrious ancestors, including a non-Mormon former chief justice of Utah’s Supreme Court) was an uncommonly strong woman of the early 1900s.

After her husband’s death, she didn’t sell his steel-frame window business as expected by a society that couldn’t conceive of female entrepreneurs, but continued operating it while raising their three children. She refused to be cared for by others, said Glasier.

“There was a certain spirit about her that fascinated me. I always sensed, however, that there were underlying secrets that haunted her, and the older I got the more I felt a need to know what those secrets were,” Glasier writes in the prologue of her novel.

Although she took artistic liberties in imagining unknowable aspects of the plot line, Glasier said most salient facts in the book are true — including her grandmother’s factious relationship with her own father, whom she coerced into taking her along on a trip to Mexico with him when she was in her early 20s.

Glasier discovered that a violent assault took place while her grandmother was left alone in a hotel room. This, followed by a tragedy involving a child born out of wedlock, and other dramatic occurrences, helped Glasier understand her grandma’s fractured personality.

At times the woman, who died in her 80s in 1968, “displayed a profound sadness brought on by what appeared to be the most innocent of events,” Glasier wrote. And at other times she “was completely selfish and insufferable… I’ve seen her anger rise like an entity unto itself and frighten the daylights out of me and anyone near her.”

The 480-page, self-published novel took Glasier, now age 80 herself, about a decade to complete because of all the detective work involved, and her working and reworking of the story with help from local editor Carl Hahn and her writing group.

This is the retired Olds College curriculum developer’s second book following 2012’s Bend Like A Willow: A Tale of an Arab Promise, which recounted difficulties experienced in her six-year cross-cultural marriage to Muslim man and their former life in Algeria.

So far, Glasier said she’s heard positive feedback about her novel based on her grandmother’s life — notably from family members who told her they see an ancestral trait of strength running down the female line.

She Was Never the Same is available at Sunworks or from the Red Deer Arts Council, 4919-49th St. There will be an author’s reading at the Arts Council at 2 p.m. on Jan. 28.

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