Layout 1The writing in Leslie Vryenhoek’s debut novel, Ledger of the Open Hand, is flowing and descriptive, with some images so beautiful you know they’ve come from the mind of a serious wordsmith.

This is no surprise, given Vryenhoek is an exceptional, seasoned poet. The story piques and keeps interest the entire time, but the main character – Meriel-Claire – is what is most memorable. She is flawed and envious; simultaneously generous and thoughtful, the type of character you want to meet in real life because you feel like you’d understand each other. The type of character who gains sympathy and garners respect, a strong, complicated, singular woman who in the pursuit of trying to do things right ends up feeling like everything’s wrong.

Ledger of the Open Hand is about give and take, and levels of emotional debt that shape and control relationships. “I had, from the start, this idea of a balance sheet with give on one side, take on the other. So the ledger—the book in which all the transactions are recorded, numbered, and balanced, seemed appropriate. But … Meriel-Claire gradually realizes, life isn’t really about two columns, debits and credits, everything neat and rational. There’s also the need to give without expecting anything in return—to give generously, without a grudging heart as the Bible implores. That’s sometimes called the ministry of the open hand. And the hand is such a great symbol for generosity (or its opposite, as in tight-fisted).”

With Meriel-Claire at the center, the book assembles themes on female relationships, family dynamics, the complicated line between truth and lies, and the variance of perspective. “It’s that conflict between how others see us and how we see ourselves that interested me most,” says Vryenhoek, “and it’s the struggle that compels MC throughout the novel. How does a woman define herself and own her life when she is constantly being directed or labelled by others? Poor Meriel-Claire can’t even hold on to her own name—she’s MC to some, Meriel to others—let alone get people to view her as the thoughtful, generous person she thinks she is. And yet there’s one point at which MC’s dad talks about what a rare opportunity it is “to see yourself from the outside, from someone else’s perspective. It makes you want to be better.” The question I kept asking as I was writing Ledger was: whose version of our lives should we accept?”

Vryenhoek has shown with Ledger that she accepts and excels at a multitude of literary challenges. Not only is she a remarkable poet and short story writer, and expert editor, she is now a fantastic novelist flexing sinewy creative muscle.