Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fiction: Sandra Beck by John Lavery

John Lavery, an accomplished and acclaimed crafter of short stories, makes the transition to the longer fictional form with a novel structured not unlike some of the stories he’s told in the past. Fans will delight, however, because -- of course -- there’s a lot more of it.

The title’s Sandra Beck is, in a sense, all women to everyone. Specifically, though, she is wife, mother, daughter and flawed human whose story is here told by just about everyone but her. Clearly, the form invites narration of questionable veracity. The storytellers are themselves part of this story and their own experience clouds what they see and what they share. Not unlike life.

And then there is the language. Most of the time Sandra Beck (House of Anansi) feels like music. Lavery swings us along with the master’s sure touch and it is always a pleasure to swing right along with him. Here, in the opening scene, we see Sandra for the first time, through the eyes of her daughter, Joseé:
I woke in my saltwater room, a bed-dweller, bottom-feeding in the warm sheets.


I heard my mother’s footsteps on the frozen beach outside my room. The hallway, I mean. My girl’s-gills filled up with happiness, a happiness indistinguishable from my mother herself.
Building a portrait of a person through the eyes of other people sounds very much like a writerly exercise and, to some degree, one never experiences anything in Sandra Beck that makes one think that this is not true. At the same time, though, this exercise seems to bear fruit. Almost every page of Sandra Beck is a delightful surprise.

Lavery, who lives in Gatineau, Quebec, is the author of two short story collections: Very Good Butter and You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off. Sandra Beck is his first novel.

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