When the novel starts, Paul Hansen is incarcerated in a large and insalubrious prison on the outskirts of Montreal. He shares his cell with a much-feared Hells Angel called Patrick Horton, who is serving time for murder. Although it is unclear why Paul is in prison, his position as Patrick Horton’s cell mate is precarious; he has a knife that could kill him at any moment. An evaluator regularly assesses Paul’s behavior, but he shows no remorse for what he has done, and he will not be released until he does. So patiently, he must serve his time.
Paul’s story is told in alternating chapters, moving between his present incarceration and his life leading to this point. We meet his parents—free-spirited Anna, who is disgraced when her art house cinema shows the scandalous Deep Throat, and Johannes, the pastor of the local church who runs away for a new life in Quebec. We meet his lover, a seaplane pilot called Winona, who takes him up into the cloudless sky away from his penny-pinching, arrogant boss Edouard Sedgwick and the ageing residents of the luxury apartment building he was so diligently the caretaker to for 20 years. Not Everybody Lives the Same Way is a powerfully original and unusual book, whose troubled protagonist leads us to question what it takes to lead a dignified life.