Tag Archives: 1980s

Dance on the Earth by Margaret Laurence

Dance on the earth

I’ve said before on this blog that Margaret Laurence is my number 1 favorite author. It is because of her I fell in love with Canadian Literature and reading in general. Laurence died relatively young and had very little output after her magnum-opus, The Diviners, was published. Over the years, I kept a few of Laurence’s works on reserve for future reading because I don’t like the finality of reading everything she has published. He last book, and only major work after The Diviners, is her posthumously published 1989 memoir Dance on the Earth. Laurence died in 1987, shortly after completing a semi-final draft and before publication. In the foreword, her daughter Jocelyn does an excellent job of describing the last few months of Laurence’s life and the rush and struggle to finish this book. Her cause of death wasn’t actually revealed until James King’s biography was published many years later. There is no particular reason why I decided to read this now, I just felt that it was time. Dance on the Earth was an excellent coda on the writing career of a masterful author. In fact, this strong woman being ripped from this world while writing her memoirs could even be described as Laurence-esque.

Laurence crafts an autobiography that is all her own. She doesn’t follow a standard A-to-B-to-C structure. Instead, she frames each of the four primary chapters in terms of the important mothers in her life: her biological mother, her step-mother, her mother-in-law, and finally herself. Within each of these frames, Laurence discusses the major events, important people, and central places that made her who she was and helped shape her pacifist and feminist views. Interestingly, she doesn’t really get into discussing her own writing until the chapter where she focuses on herself. Laurence gets into her state-of-mind with her works, her reactions of reviewers, her dislike of the publicity/business end of it, and why The Diviners was her last major work. This section more than the rest is really a fascinating glimpse into a brilliant creative mind. Additionally, the memoir is peppered with wonderful letters between Laurence and others, with the letters to Adele Wiseman being a definite highlight.

The main bulk of the book is written with the same understated powerful prose that punctuated her Manawaka cycle, except Laurence herself takes the place of Hagar, Rachael, Stacey, Vanessa, and Morag. She is very open, vulnerable, and pulls no punches. My one negative critique of the book is some of the items included in the “Afterwords” section. The previously published essays, including articles on nuclear disarmament, feminism, and a convocation address were fantastic, they were wonderfully written, articulate, and quite persuasive in their arguments. But, the poems that were included were not that great. It upsets me a little bit that the final work of Laurence’s career is concluded with a bit of mediocre poetry that seems to have been written for personal occasions, not publication. I’m sure this was an editorial decision made after Laurence had left us.

It’s clear that Margaret Laurence knew her life was coming to an end (as we now know she made the decision herself on when it would end). This was also clear in the way the memoir ended. She seemed to wrap things up quickly and almost suddenly because she knew that’s how it had to be. This is not a criticism of the book or even something that takes away from it. Instead it further punctuates that the fact that this great author had a lot more to give to our country, even if her prime writing days were behind her.

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Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing by Tomson Highway

Dry Lips

Winner of the 1990 Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award

Winner of the 1989 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play

Shortlisted for the 1989 Governor General’s Award for Drama

Any first year English student knows that in the broadest of senses, there are four genres of literature: fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama – and of course each of these has their own endless lists of sub-genres. Drama is one of the most difficult genres to read and, I would imagine, write. The story is essentially conveyed solely by dialogue and it is primarily written to be performed rather than necessarily read. When reading a play, you are thrown right into the middle of the action, often with very little context and it can sometimes be difficult to get an initial grasp on the story and characters, especially with contemporary drama which tends to push the envelope. The average literature student struggles with drama more than other genres and very very few literary blogs review books of drama. With all of that being said, reading a play can be just as rewarding as any novel or volume of poetry. Canada is very lucky to have more than its fair-share of world-class dramatists: Sharon Pollack, George F. Walker, Judith Thompson, George Ryga, Catherine Banks and Daniel McIvor just to name a few. I’ve been collecting more Canadian plays lately and I’m planning on adding more of the genre to my reading rotation, starting with this selection.

Tomson Highway is one of Canada’s best known playwrights and Native writers in general and his works are frequently included in the curriculum of Canadian literature courses. I’ve previously reviewed his novel Kiss of the Fur Queen on my site. His signature work is, without a doubt, his play The Rez Sisters, the story of a group of women on the Wasaychigan Hill reserve going to the world’s biggest bingo. Today’s selection, Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, is the companion and quasi-sequel to The Rez Sisters and takes place on the same reserve. This play uses hockey to bind several misanthropic characters together in a play that is equal parts comedy and almost unbearably dark tragedy.

Right off the bat, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this as much as The Rez Sisters, which happens to be one of my favorite plays. But, after letting it marinate for a few days I have to admit my opinion of Dry Lips is more favorable than it was when I initially finished. It’s difficult to give this book a proper review without revealing spoilers, but I’ll do my best.

The play has a few arcs that eventually intersect and burst. We have Zachary who wants to open a bakery to bring some prosperity to the reserve and is worried about his wife finding out about his adultery; we have Big Joey who is trying to connect with his son, Dickie Bird – who suffers from severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; Pierre who is ecstatic to be the referee in the women’s hockey game; Spooky who uses pious Christianity as salvation from his wild youth; and Simon, a mysterious character that seems to float from situation to situation. The two acts are very well defined; the first act is very comedy heavy while the second is very tragedy filled and difficult to read in certain spots. Throughout the play, the action takes place under that watchful eye of Nanabush – the Trickster, the Christ-esque creature that is often omnipresent in Native literature.

The positives of Dry Lips were all related to Highway’s unflinching and unromanticised depiction of life on the reserve and the inherent problems that go along with it. Violence, alcoholism, poverty, fetal alcohol syndrome, and cultural decay are all taken on in a brutally unforgiving way. This is punctuated with a particularly disturbing scene between Dickie Bird and Patsy. At the end of the play, you are left with neither a pessimistic nor an optimistic feeling. Instead, Dry Lips leaves the reader with a sense of realism. Life on the reserve is ugly and there are no easy solutions.

The negatives are a little harder to put your finger on. The action of the play is very frantic and scattered at times. Obviously this can make the plot and forward momentum difficult to follow, especially since a few of the main characters are essentially reflectors and interchangeable. Also, the stage directions are very detailed and more than are typical in contemporary drama; I think this would likely leave little room for a director to leave their stamp on a production.

All in all, Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing is a good, and ultimately, important play. It takes on difficult themes, it uses language creatively, it does interesting things with the Trickster character, and it completes a mythology started in The Rez Sisters. This may not be a play for the casual reader or even a good introduction to Canadian drama. But, for the advanced CanLit reader, for someone interested in Native lit, or for someone with a deep interest in Canadian drama, it is a worthwhile, if not essential, read.

Book of Mercy by Leonard Cohen

Book of mercy

Leonard Cohen recently released his 13th studio album, Popular Problems, his best release since Various Positions in my humble opinion. So, needless to say, I have been listening to lots of Cohen’s music lately, reconnecting with old favorites and grooving to his hearty baritone rhythms. Obviously I decided it was a good time to read some Cohen. His bibliography is quite extensive, likely more so than most CanLit fans realize: eight original books of poetry, two novels, one collection of selected poems (for which he won, and subsequently refused, the 1968 Governor-General’s Award for Poetry), and one anthology of selected poetry, songs and prose. I haven’t actually read a lot of Cohen’s works; other than a few selected poems in Canadian literature classes, I’ve only read two of his books – his debut collection Let Us Compare Mythologies and, about 10 years, his infamous novel Beautiful Losers. I was up for a challenge this week, so I chose the 1984 book Book of Mercy.

Book of Mercy is collection of prose poems that take the form of devotional “contemporary psalms.” I have always struggled with prose poems and even more so with deeply religious writing, so I knew going into this collection that it would be a tough read. This collection, while frustratingly difficult, was an enjoyable and interesting read. If you’re familiar with either Cohen’s writing or music, you will recognize many of the themes and motifs present in almost all of the poems, especially if you imagine Cohen himself reciting them to you with his haunting deep voice.

All 50 of these prose poems are steeped in Judeo-Christian imagery and Biblical references – to the extent that someone unfamiliar with the basics of the Old Testament would likely be lost. Frankly, if you were to present these to a quality 4th year literature major, they would likely think these are translated 14th century Middle English devotions, not poems from a Jewish Canadian written in 1984. Overall, I would use one word to describe Book of Mercy: sad. The speaker is writing from a place of pain, spiritual torture, and religious uncertainty. At various points, the writing is desperate, angry, dark, but it is always gripping and, above all, sincere. Leonard Cohen is an extreme example of poetry being inseparable from the poet and this particular collection is case-in-point why.

Book of Mercy is not for the casual reader of poetry. It is difficult, confusing, and filled with obscure references. I read more poetry than most, I have a degree in literature and I have studied English at the graduate level, and still, I struggled greatly with this book. But, that is not to say this is a title to be avoided. If you’re a fan of Leonard Cohen, it is a fantastic example of what makes him tick. Just know that you’re not alone when you shake your head and mutter “huh?”

Island: The Collected Stories by Alistair MacLeod

As promised, my first book review of 2013! Alistair MacLeod. Just his name evokes images of the Cape Breton landscape. I really think that there are no Canadian writers whose worldwide reputation is built on such little writing; that is a testament to just how good his books are. MacLeod has five books published, three of which are completely original works: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, As Birds Bring Forth the Sun, and his only novel, No Great Mischief. He also has two books where existing writing was essentially repackaged: the story “To Every Thing There is a Season,” from his second collection, was reworked into an illustrated Christmas book and, the book I am reviewing here, Island, is all of the stories from his two previously published collections plus two unpublished stories. On the back cover of Island, Michael Ondaatje compares MacLeod to Faulkner and Chekhov in his use of regionalism to tell universal stories. This is the essence of Alistair MacLeod’s short stories. In his writing, Cape Breton Island acts as living laboratory to examine the larger changing world.

If you were to sit through an Island Studies class, you would learn the four primary characteristics of island life: totality, intimacy, monopoly, and exile. MacLeod’s stories embody all of these elements. They show the insularity of island life and some of the common challenges of isolation in the North Atlantic. But, more universally, they take on the ramifications of monumental social change on small traditional communities. MacLeod’s stories are set in a time when choosing to attend university instead of work the fishing boats is an insult to the family; where reading is considered a waste of time; where tourists are seen as threatening; and where living off the land is simply a way of life. The magic of MacLeod’s writing though is its exploration on what happens when these traditional beliefs get turned upside down.

Most of the stories in Island are framed. By that, for those of you who haven’t toiled away in English classes for years and years, I mean they are told through a series of flashbacks. This provides an interesting contrast and juxtaposition to the “then” and “now.” Typically, the “present” in the narrative centers on a middle-aged man looking back on important events that took place anywhere from childhood to young adulthood. The range of events is as diverse as the population of Cape Breton: abandoning the traditional family trade (fishing, mining, etc), leaving the island, or even finding out Santa is not real (sorry folks). While the immediate conflict is “local” to Cape Breton, the sense of place that emerges from the themes is universal. With a few modifications, these stories could take place anywhere.

The highlights of the collection are “The Boat” (a highly anthologized classic around the world), “The Road to Rankin’s Point,” “As Birds Bring forth the Sun,” “To Every Thing There is a Season,” “Clearances” and “Island.” If you just want to pick away at a few of the stories, these are definitely the ones to tackle.

Island and MacLeod’s only novel, No Great Mischief, are absolute masterpieces of not just Atlantic or Canadian fiction, but of English literature. The quality of writing is flawless. The characters are incredibly well developed. And MacLeod tells a story in only a few pages that would take lesser writers entire books. Thematically, Island feels like over 20 small novels and should be read by everyone.

Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood

Murder in the dark

Margaret Atwood has written a number of books that break through traditional notions of short stories and poetry. These books, Good Bones, Murder in the Dark, and most recently The Tent, all blur the lines. This short volume, only coming in at 70 pages, contains pieces that range from short prose poems, mini-literary criticism manifestos, speculative pieces, metaphysical musings, and mini-romances. Murder in the Dark was Atwood’s first collection like this, and in my opinion, the best of the three. Every page of this book pushes you like no other writer can.

Many of the pieces in this collection explore themes of seeing what is in front of you and absorbing the world around you; she does this through matters of love, literature, growing up, and gender roles. Many of the prose poems twist your mind and attempt to demystify life’s little mysteries. Atwood’s flair for language is on display in this book like very few of her works that came before it; she shows why she is considered a master of the English language.

This book is a very quick read and a great example of Atwood’s style. Traditional literary genres and constraints are of no concern to the author; she creates her own genres and her own traditions to tell stories and express thoughts that are topically simple but thematically complex. Atwood attempts to answers basic human questions in 70 pages but forces you to open your mind, and ask new questions.

Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley

Shortlisted for the 1984 Governor-General’s Award for Fiction

Selected for Canada Reads 2008

Not Wanted on the Voyage, much like Timothy Findley’s writing in general, tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing. Before I started reading this book I read some reviews online, most of which were from 2008 when the book was on Canada Reads, and many were not overly positive. I really enjoy Findley, Pilgrim being one of my favorite books, so I was looking forward to reading this. I loved it. This novel has taken on the status of a modern classic, evidenced by the fact that the most recent publication is part of Penguin’s Modern Classics series. On a topical level Not Wanted on the Voyage is a retelling of the biblical flood tale with a feminist twist, but there is a lot more than this going on in this story. Amongst the themes that are examined are family roles and dynamics, the danger of being at the mercy of your faith, and the arbitrariness of nature. I thought this book was very funny in parts, but painfully gruesome in others.

I think only Timothy Findley could pull off a biblical revisionist novel from the narrative point-of-view of a blind 20 year old cat. This cat, Mottyl, makes the book. The first 20-30 pages were very difficult to get into but once the ancient and decrepit Yaweh finally arrives for his visit with the devoted Dr. Noah Noyes the forward motion of the story really picks up. There are so many memorable scenes on both sides of the scale. Some of the funniest moments include Mrs. Noyes conducting her chorus of singing sheep, the Noyes’s son Japeth being marinated by barbarians in preparation to be eaten before he escapes their capture, resulting in his skin having a permanent blue hue, and the countless incidents of Mottyl narrating the everyday life of an old house cat. But there are other scenes that are as disturbing as the previous mentions are funny: the surplus animals on the Noyes homestead being burned in a giant pyre, Lotte’s throat being slit and birds pecking out her eyes, and the famous scene which is always associated with this book where Noah rapes his 11 year old daughter-in-law with a unicorn’s horn, killing the unicorn in the process, in order to prepare her for her husband. Between the violence and blasphemy there is something to offend almost everyone; it is definitely not for the pious Sunday church going crowd.

The animals are very memorable in this book. There are dog-sized unicorns, one- and two-headed demons that emit fire, and talking critters of every variety. Findley does a masterful job of the imagery and painting a picture of times long past. He gets down to the most minute details using beautiful metaphors. My one criticism of the book is his use of one particular character: Lucy. I will issue a spoiler alert here. Lucy, we find out early in the book after Michael Archangelis (clever right?) does battle with a dragon, turns out to be Lucifer in a human guise. He has taken this form and married one of the Noyes children in order to gain passage on the ark and avoid certain death. Very little was done with this character, but yet, (s)he is still an intriguing and essential part of the story.

This book constantly challenges the reader’s sense of good and evil; forcing the reader to realize that not all is black and white and there is often times ambiguity in doing something that is ultimately good. Not Wanted on the Voyage is a very rewarding book. Now to be honest, it is a fairly slow read, it is dense, there are points where there is not a lot of forward motion, and if you are reading the Penguin Classics printing it suffers from the usual problems of this line: very small print, a lot of text on the page, and page breaks are at a minimum. To enjoy this book you need to allow the humour to reach you and realize that this really is a foolish idea for a novel; therein again lies the ambiguity. This story joins a long list of other Canadian novelists reworking biblical stories, such as A Time for Judas or Testament. If you are still having doubts, this novel is worth reading for the the simple reason that it will explain what is going on behind your cats creepy and shiny eyes.

Billy Bishop Goes to War by John Gray

Winner of the 1982 Governor-General’s Award for Drama

Winner of the 1982 Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award

Winner of the 1981 Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Award

One of the country’s best known and most produced plays, Billy Bishop Goes to War is something of an aberration in published Canadian drama; it is in fact a musical that is published with lyrics and descriptions of the music. After doing some research I have found that, unlike most musicals, the producers/director of the show are responsible for the music, none is provided when the rights to the play are purchased. With that being said, the lyrics and musical descriptions work very well; they are key plot elements and are often used as turning points in the plot of the play. This book tells the story of legendary Canadian World War I pilot Billy Bishop and his rise to glory from a failing R.M.C. student to the toast of an empire.

Winning a number of awards, most notably the 1983 Governor-General’s Award for Drama, this play rose to prominence because of it’s style and structure, not because of any ground breaking plot or writing. Billy Bishop Goes to War is fundamentally a one-man show with a piano player providing backing vocals. I would think this would be very daunting for an actor, you would basically be responsible for memorizing a 102 page book. The majority of the play is Bishop, or whichever role he assumes, addressing the audience. This is very effective; even while reading the play you get a real sense of intimacy with the characters. When another role is assumed, the actor simply changes his voice or stance somewhat to show that he is taking on another personae. The staging in this production is very creative too; there are no huge elaborate sets or props: there is simply Bishop, a piano, and for the scenes where he is speaking about his time in the air, a model airplane he holds in his hand. In terms of both acting and staging, this play is theatrical minimalism at its best.

A few weeks ago CBC broadcast a new TV production of the play with John Gray and his collaborator Eric Peterson reuniting for the show. Even on the small-screen this was something impressive to watch, simply because of the range that is needed by the lead actor. The music is central to this piece, as I mentioned, it is used to shift the mood and also used as a leitmotif. This play definitely has it’s place in the Canadian dramatic tradition. Billy Bishop Goes to War is among a great renaissance of our national drama that was taking place in the early 80s along with other playwrites like Sharon Pollack, Judith Thompson, and George F. Walker. This book is certainly worth the read.

Midnight Found You Dancing by John Smith

As PEI’s first Poet Laureate, John Smith, while not a household name, is a relatively well known figure on PEI. A former English professor at UPEI who was held in high regard, Smith has developed a reputation as an animated performer; his skill as a reader has perhaps overshadowed his skill as a poet. When I first moved to PEI to attend the university I was taking a Modern British Literature class with another Island poet Brent MacLaine who, due to being away at a conference, brought in Mr. Smith to fill in. I was floored by his passion and presence as he belted out the classic verse of Yeats and Hardy. It was not until a year later in 2002 when he was appointed Poet Laureate of the province that I found out he himself was a poet. Since then I have hunted down a few of his volumes with this being the first I have read.

Midnight Found You Dancing is John Smith’s fourth collection of poetry. It is a very short volume, only 44 pages of poetry, and the majority of those poems are sonnets, none passing the 20 line mark. Published in 1986, I found the style in this collection to be a throwback to the classic poets of the 50s and 60s (Layton and Purdy for example). The language is very high and formal and the subject matter is very abstract. One of the principal themes that I picked out as a I read through this was the idea of change; many of the poems gave me the impression of standing on a precipice whether it be physical, psychological, societal, or cultural. The poems seem to typically look towards the past, but to answer the question of how it will affect the future.

I have to be honest, the structure of the poems in book got in the way of the enjoyment of them for me. The poems can best be described as short but wide; as stated before, the poems are never over 20 lines but each line is almost to the end of the page. I found this caused the poems to be somewhat dense and made it difficult to pick out key points while casually reading it. Early in his education, John Smith studied math and physics; many of the metaphors in this volume are scientific and again, that can get in the way of the readers absorption of these pieces. All-in-all this is a decent collection. Midnight Found You Dancing is incredibly hard to find; I chanced upon it at a local used book store but browsing online used book sites I only found three copies, two in Canada and one in France. From the research I have done this is not one of his most well know collections and as I read more of his books I am sure my enjoyment and understanding of John Smith will be elevated to the levels of other Island poets.

The Gunny Sack by M.G. Vassanji

Winner of the 1990 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book, Africa Region

M.G. Vassanji, like Michael Ondaatje and Rohinton Mistry, is one of Canada’s most prolific immigrant writers. Being of Indian descent, born in Kenya, raised in Tanzania, educated in the US, and eventually ending up in Canada, Vassanji has a vast array of cultural influences to draw from. Perhaps being best known as either the inaugural Giller winner or the first two-time Giller winner, he has produced success after success after success. Arguably his most well-known books are his Giller winners The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall but Vassanji has continuously received both critical and popular acclaim. His long list of hit titles began in 1989 with his debut novel The Gunny Sack. This novel deals with the same settings and themes as his later works, but in my opinion, with far less finesse.

The nuts and bolts of this story is that the protagonist, Salim Juma, inherits his great aunt’s gunny sack. In the first few pages while looking through the sack he begins to reminisce about growing up in eastern Africa. We are taken through many generations and many historical events in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, most notably the Mau Mau uprising and Idi Amin’s rise to power. On a fundamental level this book is about how your memory can play an important role in your interpretation of history.

If you have ever studied post-Civil War American literature than you should be very familiar with what the naturalist movement was. If not, basically this was a style used by writers like Stephen Crane, Kate Chopin, and Edith Wharton where the story was told as if it the characters where part of a scientific experiment. The story is narrated with the utmost detail with no “editorializing.” This novel is narrated in that style; this makes for a very slow and very dull read. The Gunny Sack is at least 100 pages too long. The narration is given with such minute detail that you lose track of the action of the story frequently. 60 pages into the novel I honestly still had no idea what was going on. Perhaps this is because Vassanji is a physicist by trade.

This novel as well has more characters than a soap opera. Each section of the novel centers around one particular person in the Salim Juma’s life. Right off the bat you are inundated with almost a dozen characters in the immediate family. This is very difficult to keep track of. Part of the difficulty of this novel is the excessive use of the Swahili language. This is a technique that is used in his other novels but to nowhere near the extent of this. There is a glossary at the end of the book but this really gets in the way and the enjoyment of reading.

So,as  you can probably guess, I was not a big fan of this book. I was very disappointed as The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is one of my favorite books. This novel reads like an African history text. So in short, read one of Vassanji’s many other great works; if you have a great interest in East African history than The Gunny Sack is for your.

White Biting Dog by Judith Thompson

Winner of the 1984 Governor General’s Award for Drama

Canadian drama has always been something of an enigma. We have world class writers like Sharon Pollack, Michael Healey, Kent Stetson, George F. Walker, and the list goes on but it seems that our theatrical literature does not get the same attention as the great American and European dramatists. This is certainly not for lack of quality. On the plus side though over the past number of years more and more universities have been including Canadian Drama courses in their CanLit rotations and in 1981 the Canada Council for the Arts took the huge step of recognizing drama’s unique place in our literary culture by separating the Governor General’s Award for poetry and drama into their own categories.

One of our leading dramatists is without a doubt Judith Thompson. A two time winner of the GGs, countless Dora Awards, the Toronto Arts Award, a Canadian Authors Association Award, several Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Awards, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and Ms. Thompson was the first Canadian to receive the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Needless to say her resume is quite impressive. About a year ago I went through great trouble to obtain a copy of her second play White Biting Dog; eventually tracking it down on AbeBooks from a vendor in Vancouver. I finished the book about a week ago and this was the first book in a long time that after finishing the only thing I could think was “what just happened?” This is not a common thought for an English major who specialized in Canadian literature and loves drama.

Like most of Thompson’s plays White Biting Dog relies heavily on mystical realism and theatrical metaphor to drive the action. The play has five characters. Cape, the central figure, is a young former lawyer who is suicidal; the play gets rolling with him reflecting on his attempt to end his life and how he is saved by a white dog that sends him a message. The dog’s owner, Pony, ends up at Cape’s house (how, I am still not sure), a romance ensues and helps serve as the catalyst for the plays central conflicts. Cape lives with his father , Glidden, who is close to death from some kind of disease brought on by his addiction to rolling around in peat moss. Cape believes (according to the message from the dog) that if he reunites his parents, his father will live. Cape’s mother, Lomia, and her much younger boyfriend, Pascal, arrive at Glidden’s home after their apartment burns down. What ensues is a very fast paced web of lies built by Cape to bring his parents back together. It would be almost impossible to divulge anymore details without ruining the book for you.

This play examines a lot in a 104 page book or 2 hour stage production. By turns the play takes on the symbolism and meaning of death, love, suicide, sex, homosexuality, and the eternal bond that two people share no matter what circumstances have been dealt to them. White Biting Dog, probably more than any other Canadian book I have ever read, really explores the existentialism of human interactions and relationships. Now all this being said; this is an incredibly difficult book to read. Like a lot of plays it is written more so to be used as a script and production map, as opposed to a piece of literature to be read; the sentence structures and vernacular that is used is meant to guide the actors in their performances. There will be times you need re-read a page or monologue because you will sit there and shake your head wondering what’s going on.

White Biting Dog is Judith Thompson at her best. I hope that I one day have the opportunity to see a staged production of this piece. For those of you who wouldn’t know a Canadian playwright from a hole in the ground, well, you now know where to start.

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