Culture & Conversation

A Bleak Prospect, Richly Rendered

MORE OPENS WITH A SENTENCE TWO AND A HALF PAGES LONG, a sinewy line of half-waking thought pinned down by sirens and church bells, as Idora Morrison reviews her brightly lit past in Barbados and anxiously tries to comprehend her adult son’s disappearance into the Toronto winter night. Witty and deeply moving, More displays a bleak prospect richly rendered.

The novel covers the handful of days and nights during which Idora paces about her apartment considering the worrisome aspects of son BJ’s character: she can not identify with his clothing or his attitudes, he receives cash from unknown sources and he has recently converted to Islam. The conversion is the principle cause of Idora’s anxiety, as she fears for BJ’s isolation in the unknown culture of a new religious faith.

Idora’s contemplations lead her to examine her own identity as a Barbados-born Canadian immigrant. In Canada she has endured low pay and domestic work, and the double ignominy of being made afraid by her feeling of difference in a predominantly white society, at the same time as being aware that she is feared, because of the colour of her skin. The institutionalized racism of Toronto receives the full force of the novel’s societal critique in a memorable hair salon scene in which the city that prides itself on multi-culturalism is dismissed as nothing more than a collection of ethnic and cultural ghettos.

While the social critique is powerful, Idora’s individuality gives the novel its zing. On a visit to Kensington market Idora’s naïve (perhaps rather too naïve) girlfriend Josephine insists on talking about “visible minorities,” forcing Idora to retort, “I am not any damn minority. Visible or invisible.” Idora is unique, and therefore a majority. From the sensation of green pawpaw juice in the mouth to the sound of her tambourine in a church basement, Idora’s recollections reveal a woman who is funny, vibrant and flexible.

Eventually Idora emerges from her apartment, purged and ready to bear witness before the assembled congregation of the Apostolicals. And speak she does, in a testament that rocks off the pages. It is no accident that Idora speaks out in church, for faith forms the backbone of More. Not just religious faith, but faith in the individual’s resilience; faith in community and faith in the capacity of communication to move the listener.

What is the “more” to which the title speaks? Idora seeks more of everything that life has to offer, and by the novel’s end, Idora will want more answers about what has happened to BJ. But whatever she seeks, Idora has been endowed with enough spirit to cope with the answers that may come. Idora Iris Isabelle Morrison is magnificent; More surges with life.

Alice Petersen is a Montreal-based writer. In 2007 her work was shortlisted for the Writers’ Union of Canada Short Story Competition, the CBC Literary Awards and the Journey Prize.  Her stories also appear in Coming Attractions 08, (Oberon Press) edited by Mark Anthony Jarman.

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