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April Books

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Issue: 44 Section: Literature & Ideas

April 15, 2007

April Books

Reviews of new work by Windley, Leahy, McOrmond

homeschool.jpgHome Schooling
Carol Windley
Cormorant Books

The eight stories in Windley's accomplished second collection identify life-altering moments, and the long slow processes of reconciliation which follow. Each story assembles the memories, dreams, wishes and hearsay which comprise the characters' limited self-understanding. In "Sand and Frost," a young woman confronts her great-grandfather's homicides and her own obsessive, unrequited infatuation. In the title story, Annabel longs to escape the isolated alternative school which her father has created, and which he is determined to reopen after a pupil's death closes it down. These plotlines could be morbid, but Windley 's tone stays this side of angst. Quietly compassionate, these are stories that employ deftly suspenseful pacing. We see, as one character did, "how necessary death was to the story; how it moved things forward, how it had to happen the way it did, in ordinary rooms, in landscapes blurred with gentle mists. Without violent death, it seemed, there would be no genuine passion, only ill-tempered, unfulfilled individuals, full of anomie, grating on each other's nerves." Most of the stories present family relationships and refreshingly multi-faceted perspectives on children and young women. Each is set in a west-coast landscape whose evocation is one of Windley's great strengths, and whose shifting shadows are perfectly suited to Windley's unusually serene depiction of survival. --Jane Henderson

outtodry.jpgOut to Dry in Cape Breton
Anita Lahey
Signal Editions

At first glance, Anita Lahey's debut collection follows all the generally accepted conventions of contemporary Canadian poetry. Most obviously, it takes long, lingering, detailed looks at the ordinariness of domestic life. The book's first set of poems, "Woman at Clothesline," is ostensibly about laundry, but Lahey escapes predictable patterns through humour. For instance: "Things That Might Prevent You from Hanging" reads like a catalogue of modern-day paranoia, from lightning to embarrassment at the "Wham! decal on that t-shirt you wear / only beneath other clothes." Another convention: this book organizes itself neatly into sections with titles and epigrams that could as easily be applied to clean, realist paintings by people with WASPy last names (and indeed, Lahey takes her cue in the middle section from several Canadian artworks, including two by Alex Colville). This careful structure goes a long way; nothing feels extraneous here and Lahey never plays fast and loose with her words. Her precision, instead of constricting, allows verbal quirks to shine without being precious. In "Instructions on Snow," we are told to "beware / self-important flakes." It's a cute play on words, but like most of this collection, it works. --Regan Taylor

prime.jpgPrimer on the Hereafter
Steve McOrmond
Wolsak & Wynn

One of the most arresting poems in this collection, "Communion," gives us a line of boys in a schoolyard gripping each others' hands and grabbing at the electric fence. The last boy, the one who absorbs the bulk of the current, is "gripped by a passion/ that takes his grin and shakes, a tongueless/ scream that can overwhelm the heart." McOrmond is to be praised for his eye for original subject matter; while there are a few pieces that treat well-worn poetic tropes (the teenage car ride, leaving home), there are many that look further afield. Some, like the tragic-comic "Armchair," showcase McOrmond's skill with voice experimentation: "My daddy warned me about/ boys like you, no good/ drifter..../ You're just another pickpocket/ after petty change, a girl/ draped across your arm." This noir-inflected voice crops up in several of the poems here, as does McOrmond's propensity for storytelling . The most effective pieces are those in which McOrmond follows a train of thought all the way through, picking the reader up and putting them down somewhere slightly to the left or right of where they started. Despite some lazy lyricism, some slow language , and the many poems that could have been constructively pared down to maintain their energy, Primer on the Hereafter rewards the reader with its gentle humour and its intelligent curiosity. --Linda Besner

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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