The audiobook release of Caitlin Hicks’s novel A Theory of Expanded Love has been recognized by the NYC Book Awards, another in a series of accolades for the Roberts Creek-based writer’s 2015 fiction debut.
The NYC Book Awards are an annual competition judged by experts representing segments of the book industry, including publishers, writers and editors. Hicks’s audiobook was honoured in the category of Distinguished Favourite, which recognizes overall excellence. The announcement was made by the NYC Book Awards in late September.
The novel also netted literary awards after its original publication in 2015, including the Best Inspirational Fiction prize from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Hicks contributed her own voice to the novel’s audiobook version, which was completed in late 2021. Her husband, playwright and filmmaker Gordon Halloran, oversaw technical production for the recording.
A Theory of Expanded Love had its origins in a semi-autobiographical play written and performed by Hicks. Six Palm Trees opened at the Nexus Theatre in 1991 before touring internationally.
In the play, Hicks developed the character of Annie Shea, whose sharp wit becomes a coping mechanism for girlhood in a Roman Catholic family with 14 siblings during the early 1960s.
The parallels to Hicks’s own upbringing were so pronounced that the play’s renown resulted in real-life family tension.
“So when I wrote A Theory of Expanded Love, it was another exploration of that whole situation with a different emphasis,” said Hicks. Annie Shae returns as the book’s narrator, navigating faith and family revelations through the eyes of a precocious young woman.
“I thought to myself, we’ve got to think of something that’s just so blatantly not true that my family is going to think [the story] is not really about them,” said Hicks. Halloran suggested a plot device: a priest who served alongside Annie’s veteran father during the Second World War becomes short-listed for the papacy. The celebrity connection — no matter how tenuous — confers imagined status on the family.
“As soon as I conceived that, I was off and running,” Hicks said. The storyline complemented Annie’s appetite for grandiosity. “She ends up exaggerating things and lying on the spot. And then later thinking, ‘I just committed a venial sin.’ In a family that holds up an image of everything being perfect, naturally [the protagonist] is going to slide in there and not be perfect.”
As Annie matures, she labours to reconcile her staunch Catholic faith with surprising betrayals by her parents, sublimating guilt into defiant humour and independence.
According to Hicks, the character of Annie proved so popular with readers that she will be the subject of a forthcoming sequel: Kennedy Girl. The novel is set in the aftermath of Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968.
In addition to her work in the realm of fiction, Hicks is a prodigious memoirist and playwright. She was a literary contributor to CBC Radio’s Morningside program and her touring play Singing the Bones was adapted for the screen in 2001.
Excerpts from A Theory of Expanded Love will be read by Hicks at the Sechelt Library on Nov. 4 during an event sponsored by The Writers’ Union of Canada. The audiobook edition is available at chirpbooks.com; Hicks maintains an active web presence at caitlinhicks.com.