Culture & Conversation

Flashes of Poetic Talent and An Eye for Lyricism

Marie is born with “auricles”: a small ear-shaped growth on either side of her neck. The peculiarity they give to her appearance separates her from peers as such deformities regularly do among children. For Marie, who believes they also invest her with a kind of psychic gift, they become an emblem of her special isolation. Her mother takes her to Argentina where she is treated by Dr. Birkett, presumably a specialist in such conditions, with whom Marie develops an intimate relationship based on vaguely erotic fantasy and long automobile trips in pursuit of crows. 

In a large rented flat in Buenos Aires, Marie’s mother writes letters to “F” whom she maintains in a small cottage on a remote island while he endures the progress of some terminal disease. A large armoire has been left in the flat. For Marie it is a quiet refuge, a portal to memory, and a hiding place in which she secretly reads her mother’s letters. Eventually, her mother and the physician agree that the auricles must be removed. Eventually, the tulle collar Marie has worn to hide her auricles is replaced by the bandages covering her scars.

Alice works as the resident chambermaid on a decommissioned icebreaker, moored at a lakeside wharf and converted into a hostel.  She prowls the rooms and passages of the stationary ship, buries herself in piles of threadbare sheets, shares her narrow berth with a vanishing and reappearing lover. To the accompaniment of the ship’s echoing moans, she revisits memories of her parents’ arguments. She recalls a childhood project she pursued with her brother, conditioning themselves to leap from increasing heights onto ever decreasing amounts of padding.

These two stories, bound together in a reversible book, each show flashes of poetic talent and an eye for the lyricism hidden in mundane detail. Piercy exhibits a certain flair for the intriguing vignette and there are a number of imaginative thematic explorations and juxtapositions of image. Unfortunately, the possibilities of her prose seem persistently unfocused and the narratives never manage to lead anywhere. The reader is left with the impression of having listened to a description of a baroque and incompletely recollected dream, visions at once vivid and impenetrable, or perhaps to have been witness to an experiment not entirely complete.

Some observers may tend to be dismissive of performance art, suspecting that they are being hoodwinked by opaqueness dressed up as depth, obscurity masquerading as special insight. Piercy, herself a performance artist, should be alert to this interpretive possibility and endeavor to invest her fiction with some stronger thread of cohesion. Likewise Conundrum Press, who have produced a perfectly delightful package, would do well to engage a stern editor to aid in shaping its content:  there is inside this charming box the possibility of a jewel, but it needs re-cutting and a deal of polish if it is to shine.

Neil MacRae is a poet and musician from the Maritimes. He has made his home in Hinchinbrooke, Québec.

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