It’s delicate work, writing about dead girls. It’s far too easy to stumble into tasteless appropriation, to use the suffering of young women as an intellectual exercise, or for the purpose of lazy provocation. The dead girl is fodder for so many familiar pop-culture narratives, showing up in pulpy genre tales, on crime shows and films. Her body is stuffed into suitcases and refrigerators, her remains stumbled upon by dog walkers and joggers, her community holding hands and mourning her by candlelight. She’s often merely a prop, an easy symbol of destroyed innocence that exists to drive the actions of others, and the kind of lurid titillation that readers lap up. It takes both skill and empathy to write absorbing fiction about dead girls that doesn’t dangerously veer into exploitation, and with The Devil You Know, Elisabeth de Mariaffi has beyond succeeded.
Women’s stories, the reality of our lives too often appears to have no value to the reading public, who it seems don’t want to read such boring, painful stuff. Really? We can dismiss the reality of women’s lives so easily? Unless there is a major groundswell of women’s and children’s stories that are taken seriously in all sectors of society, I can’t see how we will make any progress defeating the excesses of patriarchy and all that this means in women’s lives.
“Hearts Hot and Time Passing:” Looking back on the early 2000s and its girl outlaws who broke the rules
Nostalgia is a tricky thing because it tends to make the past look better than it was, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve seen a movement in literature as exciting and inspiring as that particular time period since. After years of being told by academic institutions what literature was and what it was supposed to do, Zoe Whittall’s story blew that apart. The stories and poems I went on to discover hit me with a lightning bolt of possibility. Now, with the benefit of more than a decade of distance, I’m sure what she was part of, what she helped start, was the kind of vibrant, supportive culture that paves the way for a variety of new voices to take root.
These writers didn’t see a place for themselves in the status quo, and consciously or not, they made their own world and welcomed others into it. Not only that, but the candor in which they spoke and wrote about the intricacies of their life experiences actually brought a great deal of solace to the readers that came to love their work. Many of them, in turn, have deservedly become a dominant and welcome force in contemporary Canadian literature.
With each section, Schoemperlen lets you know the liberties she has taken with the source text she’s surgically altered. Sometimes her intervention is minimal, and in other cases it is fascinatingly and exhaustingly complex. “From this massive volume of 1454 pages, I have selected the events that interested me and rearranged them in new sections with my own titles,” she informs us of her reorganization of a book of historical dates from 1900.
In a section titled A Body Like a Little Nut, she draws on a 1897 high school botany text book, arranging its staccato sentences into alphabetical sections to produce something all together erotic: “Ovaries in a ring. Ovaries united in one berry. Ovary bursting soon after the flowering.” Or: “Plant but little aromatic. Plant erect, hairy (but green.) Plant more or less hairy, erect. Plant poisonous to the touch.” She goes to work on the obvious absurdity of 1920s health and hygiene guides, and creates what is essentially a long poem from a 1946 Ontario public-school geography text. In doing so, she reveals herself to be a curator of both juxtaposition and connection, luxuriating in the way language works and what feelings it can conjure when laid on the page.
Read the full review at The Globe and Mail.
The strange chemistry of that connection always seems to be an indiscernible divination of both where that player is and where we are in our own lives. Some of us lazily choose “the best,” while others need to see promise in unlikely heroes; I’m not sure I can claim either, really. Some of us gravitate towards underdogs, while others like more obvious fanfare. Some enjoy quirky personalities, while others pay a premium for jerseys emblazoned with predictable names with appropriate stats. It’s personal, all of it, but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say the answer to “who’s your favorite player” says great deal about not only who you are, but where you’re at in life.
Read the full essay at The Classical.
I can’t help but think that this archaic idea that victims should stay silent if they want “real justice” is lunacy. Victims of harassment, rape and violence know legal justice in these circumstances is a near impossibility, that there are no good choices, and they need a forum for the suffocating facts, regardless. Since it’s obvious we have failed to provide that safe space for them, discussions on social media and online essays have become a last resort.
Of course, if we had collectively turned our attentions to supporting and believing women in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a need for this churn of online “outrage.” For the women who gather the unbelievable strength to finally speak, this is about healing, about making the community safer and better for all of us, and because of that we should constantly be encouraging them to share their stories on whatever platform they choose.
Read the full essay at The Globe and Mail.
Yet there is a persistent unease to each domestic tableau in the novel, and there are many. Every action is tightly wrapped in the hysteria of modern parenting — the baby-proofing of coffee tables and toilets, stray pairs of scissors and choking-hazard pennies found by curious toddlers and a beloved family pit bull (barely) attacking the postman. You get the sense that Mary Rose is, like the reader, constantly waiting for tragedy to strike, whether it is in an immediate misfortune or “the mid-life cancer disaster that was stalking (her) generation.” In one late evening episode, when Mary Rose cannot reach her wife on the phone, she immediately jumps to the worst conclusion, bargaining with an unseen force to please let Hil be having an affair, please let her not be dead. And then there is her long unchecked anger — “the rage” — which she tidily takes out on herself, or on a Rubbermaid bin in the family’s basement.
Read the full review at The Afterword.
Girl Runner is a plot-driven narrative of one of those forgotten women, fictional 104-year-old Aganetha “Aggie” Smart. Now wheelchair-bound, alone and abandoned in a nursing home, Aggie asks, “Who will write my obituary?” now that everyone who knew her is gone. The ambitious and uncompromising Aggie reflects on her rich and storied life: her childhood in rural Ontario, her work at the Rosebud Confectionary factory, the friendships she forged, her brief fame as a 1920s Olympic track star and Canadian darling, and her failures and triumphs along the way.
It is a feminist book, yet written in an accessible way for those who may not reflect on the complex issues facing women in sport. The novel also touches on a variety of subjects beyond athletics, including abortion and employment equality, and features the kind of positive female relationships rarely seen in mainstream literature.
Hot, Wet, and Shaking is written in the tone of a trusted and cheeky friend, confessing secrets that shake loose their shame when spoken aloud. This is not the sex advice of a poised, multi-orgasmic, inaccessible, or clinical expert, but rather the honest musings of a woman in a pair of yesterday’s dirty jeans. Trace describes how it was a love of feminist literature that got her into Venus Envy, and how working there expanded her thoughts and views on sex and its participants. Her depiction of herself as a messy, comedic heroine, an unlikely and even unqualified sex educator, adds weight to the value of her advice, as we come to immediately trust her as she hilariously catalogues her flaws and foibles for all to see.