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February Books

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Issue: 33 Section: Literature & Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: poetry

January 31, 2006

February Books

TroutStanley_web.jpgTrout Stanley
Claudia Dey
Coach House: Toronto, 2005.

Dey, known primarily for her reimagining of the life of poet Gwendolyn MacEwan in The Gwendolyn Poems, leaps to poetic heights in this play, with language as fluid as the Pacific Ocean. Trout Stanley, a mysterious drifter and the play's title character, seems to repeat Dey's mantra when he states, "God, it feels good to talk". After two acts of situational hi-jinks, however, the reader begins to feel slightly tempest-tossed. Trout Stanley is Dey's third play, and despite the verbal pyrotechnics, there is a certain stale smell to it, not unlike the odour emitting from day-old tuna. Dey's clever puns and snappy dialogue aside, this tragicomic tale of twin sisters living in the district of Tumbler Ridge, B.C., complete with Scrabble-champ strippers and Egyptian soap operas, occasionally drowns in its own absurdity. Hopefully her next production will include a little more plausible plot and a little less wordplay. This first edition contains thought-provoking artwork by Jason Logan, whose sketches resonate well with the play's core themes of family, love, and the nature of truth.
-- Thomas Bryce

goodness_web.jpgGoodness
Michael Redhill
Coach House: Toronto, 2005.

Goodness takes metatheatre in a fruitful direction. Redhill uses the author- within-the-play as a tool to investigate, not the usual questions of where life and art intersect, but the way that memory and event interfere with one another. The characters-- a female prison guard, a war-criminal charged with a single murder, the prosecutor, and the prisoner's daughter-- are matched up with an author whose wife has betrayed him, and their country's recent genocide is set against the Holocaust, as the author travels to Poland to visit the village where his mother's family was exterminated. Although this play takes perhaps too long to get started, and initially banks too much on the hope that the Michael Redhill character's schlocky self-analysis will keep the audience entertained, there are also genuine questions being asked. When the Redhill character, on having the atrocities committed by the prisoner described to him, turns to the prisoner and says, shocked, "How could you do that?" the question's very innocence is heartbreaking. Goodness is about the frightening simplicity of the answer to this question, and the complex way that innocence and guilt mirror each other in any search for someone to blame. --Linda Besner

Ladies-of-the-Night_web.jpgLadies of the Night
Althea Prince
Insomniac: Toronto, 2005.

This recently re-released collection of short stories depicts the small, hard choices we make when building or breaking our intimate connections. Prince's clear and descriptive prose moves to the heart of her characters' homes and families, and to the chores and relationships that contain them. The collection is set in Antigua and Toronto, and is rich in quotidian details of food, landscape, and expression. Undistracted by ideals of how life "should" be, Prince's sometimes brutal realism shows catalytic moments in the lives of girls and women; some very young, "just thirteen years old, a girl dipping into big people's story", and some like Miss Peggy who "had been whoring ever since she could remember, and she felt no shame about it." These tales cunningly present women's relationships to their work and to the men and children they do it for, revealing vast gaps of understanding between people who share their daily lives. Ladies of the Night is of memorable and disarming simplicity, and Prince's insights and plot twists make for compelling, compassionate portraits of both mistrust and reconciliation.
--Jane Henderson

Therethere_web.jpgThere, There
Patrick Warner
Signal Editions: Montreal, 2005.

Warner shows considerable breadth in this collection, moving between light and dark subject matter, and from almost prosaic language to stanzas dense with auditory texture. "Tick, goes the metal gun against the teeth/" he writes, "the sheep mandhandled unsheepishly bleat". Many of these poems treat the relationship between the animal and human spheres, as Warner guides us through a slaughterhouse in "The Bacon Company of Ireland", or composes a poem of colloquialisms revolving around the word "pig" in "Pig Lyric". His use of occasional rhyme to emphasize the pairing of two concepts is faultless, and, in the best poems, he uses metrical regularity as a score to support the complex notes of his sound-play. Some opening poems lack the punch of those placed further on in the book, and Warner occasionally allows overly formal language to overtake poetic good sense, sewing up his observations in tediously slow-moving grammatical formulations. Once past this awkward stage, however, Warner comes through with stunners like "Watching the Ocean", which keeps the reader dog- paddling in the space between the title and the poem until, in the last two lines, Warner laconically throws us the rope. Hear, hear for There, There.
--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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