jump to content
In the Network: Media Co-op Dominion   Locals: HalifaxTorontoVancouverMontreal

Books, December 2004

strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_date::exposed_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::exposed_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /var/alternc/html/f/ftm/drupal-6.9/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_date.inc on line 157.
Issue: 24 Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry

December 19, 2004

Books, December 2004

macdonald_whereverville.jpgWhereverville
by Josh Macdonald
Talonbooks, 2004

Whereverville unfolds in Loam Bay, an archetypal coastal Newfoundland town economically hung out to dry after fishery closures and faced with the prospect of the Smallwood government’s resettlement in the late 1960’s. Featuring a single set peopled by a mere five townspeople, the play benefits from its spareness and relies entirely on characterisation for interest. MacDonald paints his four townsmen–Cyril, Jacky, “Pick”, MacLeish–and Abby, the schoolteacher, in precise strokes. In the four men, this precision borders on caricature, although Abby comes across with strong humanity. Though he cites Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle as inspiration for the show, MacDonald’s painstaking naturalism and focus on character minutiae erases Whereverville’s connection to the epic playwright. Where both MacDonald and the promotional material for the show–which first received production at Halifax’s Neptune theatre–emphasize Abby’s growing pragmatism and corresponding sense that “nothing really lasts”, Whereverville, as a whole, asserts pehaps too much the opposite. Each Loam Bay resident feels inextricably linked to the town and its history and MacDonald’s attention to their stories situates Whereverville too exactly. The detailed stage directions feel restrictive and make the play seem more a fixed historical document than a vital theatrical statement. The play itself is what doesn’t really last. --Steph Berntson



maillet_donoriginal.jpgThe Tale of Don L'Original
by Antonine Maillet
Goose Lane Editions, 2004

Antonine Maillet has created a work which refuses to settle into any easily definable slot. The English is flowing and contemporary, yet also evocative of medieval French texts: Gargantua, Aucassin et Nicolette, and even Le Mort D'Arthur. The historical atmosphere works well with the simple story, which is about troubled relations between islanders and mainlanders, and yet the pre-industrial mood is punctuated with seeming anachronisms like motorboats and women's emancipation. The plot covers the usual elements for dueling towns: star-crossed lovers, military manoeuvres, and the eventual realization that the people on both sides of the water are essentially the same. The book's strength lies in its vibrant and pithy characters and its rare startling scenes, like the one in which Citrouille sends an armada of love notes across the channel, each hand-written on birch bark and placed inside a fleet of "bottles, jugs, even a little barrel decked with a mast and sail." The intent of the novel, though, remains vague – while it is tempting to read it as a fable about war, the narrative tends toward the absurd maybe once too often Like reading a cross between Catch 22 and The Little Prince, it's hard to know when to take it seriously. --Matthew Trafford


cook_postscript.jpgPostscript
by Geoffrey Cook
Signal, 2004

Cook's first collection presents a series of experiments with formal structures; standard sonnets, quatrains, and the more recently standard haiku and ghazal as well. Some poems inhabit their forms snugly, pushing lightly at the confines of fixed verse with their loaded lines, while reading with smooth rhythmically satisfying musicality. In "Chopping Wood", Cook writes, "Or, when the stroke was followed through/ for once, and blocks would fall from stress/ and burden on the stumps, I'd cleft/ honeycomb-hollowed slews". On the whole, however, Cook's poetry suffers from a certain lack of individuality; his subject matter and word choice are perhaps too conventional to be paired to new effect with the conventional forms he has chosen. "You almost see it:/" Cook writes, "stung by salt in morning light,/ that pale skin flushing." Lyrical, yes, but of a worn out quality impermissible in a rigorously edited collection. Without the requisite streak of original imagination to galvanize his traditional themes and topics, Postscript is left a competent but insufficiently inspired exercise. --Linda Besner


Learning to Swim
by Larry Lynch
Gaspereau, 2004

The two longest stories, "Learning to Swim" and "Topography", draw their strength from their parallel plotlines. In one case the protagonist's swimming lessons with his bossy lover are intercut with notes for a story about an author's love-life, while in another a relief worker's travels in Nicaragua are paired with his girlfriend's preparations for her body-building competition. "Topography" in particular stands out for its quirky evocation of character: Denis looks over the soiled sheets where Corinne slept after dying her muscular body with strong tanning lotion, and notes, "The twist of her hips in the night were the smaller helter-skelter tributaries, and south of that was the basin, smooth and evenly shaded where her hips had rested... the places where the heel of her hand had rested were shells and fossils and the bones of birds". This poetic passage is a rare indulgence for Lynch, whose other stories tend towards an intentional fuzziness, with characters manoeuvring heavily through indistinct, waterlogged landscapes. A few fall flat: "Scramble" succeeds only in being odd, while "Absolutes" puzzles with its archaism, which can only be deliberate, and yet nudges us towards no exceptional revelation. In general, however, Lynch inspires trust, providing a memorable, if uneven, collection. --Linda Besner

Own your media. Support the Dominion. Join the Media Co-op today.

Advertisement

Want to receive an email notice when a new issue is online? Click here

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.

»Where to buy the Dominion

User login