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September Books

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Issue: 30 Section: Literature & Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: poetry

August 27, 2005

September Books

treble.jpg Treble
Evelyn Lau
Raincoast Books, Vancouver, 2005

Here a certain self-conscious femininity is at work: the lavender cover with budding flowers coyly leaning into each other, the slightly forced-feeling reflections on domesticity and babies, the musings on Cupid. Yet some of the section titles (The Red Woman and Fatal Attraction) reveal a darker femininity that Lau never properly develops. Treble reads a little like an attempt to decorate a home in the suburbs after living in urban dives for years, or like a beginner's first attempt at floral arrangement: there are a few bright blossoms — such as "Infidelity" and "Forced Knowledge" – but on the whole too many carnations, too much baby's breath and undifferentiated green, so that the final outcome is unintentionally funereal. While some poems seethe with astute imagery, others drift into meaninglessness: "I wanted to tell you about this drowning,/ to stir a space in the snow/ and show a hand, but in this place no echo/ or cry for help could score the air./ We were already too far past each other/ in the bright and tumbling world." Treble is an odd mixture of good poetry and Hallmark-worthy two-liners.
--Matthew J. Trafford

bloodknots.jpg Bloodknots
Ami Sands-Brodoff
Arsenal Pulp: Toronto, 2005

Brodoff's latest work explores relationships afflicted by tragedy and absurdity; Bloodknots' sentimental stories show crippled characters inextricably linked by blood, heritage, and friendship. This theme is exemplified by object- and place-motivated narrative shifts, which explore connections between past and present, as in "Extremeadura", in which the young narrator, sitting on an airplane bound for Spain, is reminded of the model planes he built with his father years ago. Such juxtapositions result in Bloodknot's more successful moments. However, the narrating characters are often unconvincing, especially in Brodoff's attempts at interior monologue. Consider her rendering of a jealous child: "But. Everything's messed up with Dufus around. I mean, different. The light, sounds, even the smell of things." And although multiple points-of-view are employed throughout the collection, they are sadly united by Brodoff's collection of lifeless metaphors. For instance, in "Love out of Bounds," a character describes the feeling of being on a roller coaster: "Plunging down, my heart rises with a live flutter, leaving me weightless, emptied out, like free-falling in a dream". There is little here to make Bloodknots anything other than a frustrating and dull read.
--Henry Svec

brossard.jpg Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon
Nicole Brossard
Coach house: Toronto, 2005

This novel is a poetic, elusive rumination on creation and loss. Set in Montreal and Quebec City, Brossard's book is anchored by four likeable and diverse female characters, all of whom make a living through some form of creation. Three of them, Carla, Simone, and the nameless narrator, create shrines to or representations of the past, where they find lost families, lost cultures (two characters work at the Museum of Civilization), or lost lovers. Brossard's book is divided into two roughly equal parts, the first being a series of short poetic vignettes, many of which contain no dialogue and little action. When the four women meet for the first time however, in a lounge at the Hotel Clarendon, the book changes form. Reversing her initial ethereal approach, Brossard could now be writing a play, her narration has become so strictly temporally located. While some of the earlier passages are a slog to read through, with the sudden switch Brossard brings her characters more sharply into focus, allowing the reader to appreciate the plot twists she's been working us up to all along.
--Sam Fraser

leckie.jpg Gravity's Plumb Line
Ross Leckie
Gaspereau: NS, 2005

Leckie is an old war-horse on the Canadian literary scene, and Gravity's Plumb Line is a paeon to green pastures that invite a bit of a lie-down. There is not much that crackles about this book, focusing as it does on landscape and vegetation in the Atlantic region. Sometimes Leckie's eye leads him to make swift, apt comparisons: each water lily pad is "an ear connected by an auditory nerve/ to the brain-muck of the lake's bottom". More often, however, the reader misses that sense of active consciousness behind the perceiving eye which is the spark for nature poetry. Leckie often seems to be looking without seeing, and describing without communicating. Some of this gap may be accounted for by an overly precious positioning of the natural world, as in "Psyche", where Leckie, in a description of spring irises, invites us to "imagine for a moment the metempsychosis of these little souls into two or three butterflies". Likewise, phrases describing water as "lit by the light", or the pages of a book as "papery thin" do little to add to the reader's sense of the particularity of Leckie's poetic offerings.
--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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