London, ON: Insomniac Press, 2008
480 pp. $19.95
Adrian Drury–an adolescent boy grappling with the difficulties of growing up in the fictional town of Flax, Ontario–is the protagonist and sacrificial victim through which the town hopes to exorcise the pain, disgrace, and failings they are confronted with, following the tragic death of two siblings less than a year apart.
These events bring the neuroseis that lay latent in the town’s characters to a head, revealing their sometimes bizarre, sometimes comical, and often tragic dispositions. An awkward lesbian teenager with an orange hat, a disconnected dentist still grieving his late wife, and a janitor obsessed with electric chairs all intersect like ensorcelled chess pawns. What follows are incongruous and imaginative sequences of cause and effect that give Dance Hall Road all its zest.
Unconventionally endearing, if not always a fully accessible character, Adrian’s memory serves as the main template for the narrative, which asks the reader to endorse the possibility of a 15 year-old boy to be as insightful and fascinating as he is presented to be. This proposition accepted, one is quickly swept away by Douglas’ unfailing prose, where each sentence is skillfully weaved into the next, the accumulation of which creates an unbreakably tense plot.
Flax, however, is not as consistently believable as the generic Canadian small town it hopes to exemplify; the narration too often slides into fantastic metaphors where the landscape takes on airs ranging from fairy-tales to Victorian gothic aesthetic to stand as a solid reference in the reader’s mind throughout the text. However, that does not take away from the novel but rather adds to its organic aura – a force that lives apart from the characters, haunting and manipulating them to comply with its oppressive will.
Douglas is an ingenious crafter of innovative images, where each one pirouettes like a ballerina, and none ever falls. Every possibility of the observations she offers is explored to its fullness, yet never over-extends itself. Dance Hall Road deserves our attention by proposing an imposingly different perspective of Canadian narratives of the rural.
Tonronto: TSAR Publications, 2007
Such un-resolvable spaces seem to run through the dynamics of Joshua’s life: he is the child of a rape of a black woman by a plantation-owner white man, an uncomfortable homosexual dealing with masochist tendencies, and the rich heir of a woman who raised him to despise himself… to name only a few of the irresolvable dichotomies he is forced to wrestle with.
These moments of strain explode unto larger commentaries on social issues such as racism, colonialism, and sexual equality, the particular of Joshua’s life reaching to the communal through the telling of his personal story. Inscribing itself as an unavoidable tale of post-colonial Caribbean literature, Joshua Éclair ‘s story is an unprotected plunge into the realities of these atrocities. Return to Arcadia re-affirms the need to continue the unveiling of historical injustices of plantation exploitation and adds to the complexity of these issues by having as a protagonist a man of mixed blood, allowing the difficulties of identity and self-definition to be pertinently addressed. These topics are a tightrope to walk on for any author and Thomas proves a skilful acrobat.
A compellingly honest, thorough, and difficult descent to the depths of the most painful of memories leads Joshua back to the place where it all began, Arcadia, the name of the plantation where he grew up on the fictitious Caribbean Island of Isabella. There, an encounter with a local healer and a spiritual experience on a mountaintop allow him to mend his past. Drawing from a mixture of dream interpretations and animist worldviews, Joshua restores and reconstructs a sense of self that finally allows him to unite all of his seemingly irreconcilable parts.
Staying clear of sentimentality, Thomas privileges a clear, insightful, precise tone, managing to infuse every heart-rending moment with warmth. The sharpness of the topics, and the difficulty of the material are coated in a gentleness from the narrator, and give the impression that the text is being offered to the reader, generously given, a thoughtfulness that is quite refreshing.
Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2008
Manguel’s lecture entitled “The Blind Bookkeeper (Or Why Homer Must Be Blind)” focuses on the many creative acts involved in writing and reading text. Not only does the artist create out of insight, which is mythologically represented as blindness, but the reader is also engaged in the creative act by being both the breather of life to the dead letter, and the maker of the teller of the tale, the bookkeeper. Homer serves as the archetype figure of the bookkeeper, displaying the perfect balance of worldly wisdom and fantastic imagination, and Manguel offers a light yet accurate description of how the crafter was crafted. In a generously optimistic gesture, Manguel concludes his talk by suggesting that: “the reader too must acquire a positive blindness. […B]lind to the superficial glamour of what lies around us, as we are standing on our selfish point of observation” (27).
Preaching to the converted, Manguel caresses his audience by revealing just enough of his vast erudition, and keeping a tone soft enough to allow his observations to be easily and warmly received. An academic that does not suffer from de-hydration, but seduces unreservedly. As Pr. Paul M. Curtis pertinently points out in the introduction of the short transcript, “If reading were an art, Manguel would be its artist”(10).
Catherine Turgeon-Gouin having completed an honours undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts and English literature at Concordia University with a concentration on modern narrative strategies and Flannery O'Connor, is now pursuing a Master's degree in English Literature at McGill University in Montreal. Catherine is interested in exploring food literature, Canadian literature and extra-literary texts.
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