Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Anne Stone's Delible

Very different from her first two novels is Anne Stone's third, Delible (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2007). A Montreal author working the boundaries between fiction, poetry and performance, Stone's first two novels appeared nearly back-to-back, with her first small novel, Jacks (Montreal QC: DC Books, 1998) published just a few months before her second book, Hush (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 1999). After moving to Vancouver a few years ago, she started working on her large novel about missing children, and has been quietly working for quite some time, releasing fragments in side/lines: a new Canadian poetics (2002) and in The Capilano Review, among other venues. Compared to the language from the first two books, the language of Delible is far less lush, less lyric, moving the story through the story itself, predominantly of how a fifteen-year-old girl in the town of Streetsville in the 1980s copes with the disappearance of her sister, barely a year older than she is. How does a teenage girl cope? The main character, Melora (known as "Lora"), for all of her teenaged reactions and hormones, is a girl who sees the bad but manages to find the good in just about everyone, eventually. It's a quality that comes even further out after the strange disappearance of her sister Melanie (known as "Mel"), which her single mother and almost everyone else immediately presumes is simply the "troubled" teenage girl Mel running away from home, yet again.
Melissa Anne Sprague and Melora Ann Sprague. Melora and Melissa. Our mom named us so that we would sound alike. Of course, people were always shortening our names. I would’ve liked it if they shortened me to Mel too, but they always called me Lora and called Melissa Mel, as if they wanted to distinguish us more than we would ourselves. Mel was the first born, and so, was supposed to be named for our grandmother, Penny, but Mom didn’t want to name her for so little money. "Why don’t we just call her Chintzy and be done with it?" she said. And so, my sister was named Melissa. Melissa Ann Sprague.
Delible works from that singular point and holds there, moving through the rest of the book in a strange kind of pattern that isn’t holding and isn’t really furthering, moving from that singular point of Mel's disappearance. Essentially, Delible is a book about forgiveness; working back and forth through the time following Mel's disappearance and flashbacking to the events that might have led up to her "leaving," the main focus of the book comes through the voice of Lora (with others, such as the girls' mother and their paternal grandmother as well), trying to figure out the now-empty space where her sister used to be. Not entirely suburb or urban or rural, the family lives on the edges of 1980s Toronto in the now-defunct Streetsville, a city that only seems to be referenced as the place where the subway is, and where Mel's belongings are eventually discovered, leaving Lora convinced that her sister hasn’t left, but has been taken; to her deepening frustration, it takes longer for anyone else to either realize or admit this, leaving Lora lost in her own spreading and singular darkness, with very little for her to turn to. Originally from Streetsville herself (Anne Stone even attended Streetsville High School, the same alma mater as Red Green creator/counterpart Steve Smith), the place itself has long since been overcome by Mississauga, once a suburb outside of Toronto, which itself fell prey to the Toronto Supercity.
In some ways, it wasn’t Mel who was gone, it was everyone who hadn’t loved her
that was gone. After Mel, my field of vision became unstable. I became prone to drift. In all things. It was an effort, a real effort, to focus in and talk to people. The ones I clung to were Mom and Uncle Dave, Val and the Woodsman.

The world that went on without Mel in it became dim. I could list the things that were real to me on one hand. Mel's old glasses were real, and so were the people I could see with the glasses, the signs of hurt eaten into, made soft, by her powerful lens.

Nobody and nothing else mattered.

When I missed her badly enough, I could put on the glasses and we could look out at the world together. I could sense her, the moment I stopped seeing everything clearly and my world clouded up like hers would when she would take her glasses off each night before slipping into bed.

After she was gone, my sister and I were more alike than ever. We shared the same lens and we shared the same language. My experiences did not happen apart from her. My experiences did not happen apart from her. I could not, in my head, split off from Mel because she was gone. To think about Mel meant my experiences, even those without her, were bound up with her still.
For all of the beautiful lush language of her earlier works, Stone's writing has always embraced a particular kind of darkness, writing about illness, insanity, suicide and other dark threads throughout almost everything she has written, but always with a particular kind of light somehow seeing its own way through it, no matter how dark it might get. How does an author or a character find light, in such a darkness?

With all the media attention given to the horrors of the Pickton trial, the west coast is overwrought with the issue these days, and apparently Stone is co-editing an issue of West Coast Line dealing with some of these same issues of disappearing women that is due out any day now.

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