canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Heart is its Own Reason
by Natalee Caple
Insomniac Press, 1998.

Reviewed by Michael Bryson

Natalee Caple's debut collection gathers for display enough wackos, freaks other assorted odd-balls to stack something even wilder than your standard Ontario Gothic carnival. Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley and Robertson Davies have mined this territory before, though perhaps without the post-modern self-consciousness it's hard not to bring to Caple's spooky tales. The collection opens with a pedophile and closes with a caged woman. Are these metaphors for our crazy age? The truth is these Gothic archetypes have been around 200 years, since about the time some Europeans began experimenting with ideas like liberty, equality, fraternity and something that would later be called Modernism. Caple steps into a deep stream with her debut and handles the currents well. Her sentences are taut, muscular; her paragraphs aware of their acoustics. Fine writing in a book nicely designed (not a first for Insomniac Press!).

The Plight of Happy People in an Ordinary World
by Natalee Caple
House of Anasi Press, 1999.

Reviewed by Michael Bryson

Everyone has seen a movie that felt like a play. Here is a novel that feels like a play. Think Beckett: a stage, a tree. In the case of Natalee Caple's followup to her stunning debut, the settings are similarly sparse: a bakery, a barren apartment, a suburban kitchen and a few other nondescript locales. The focus here is on action, dialogue and narrative soliloquy. The novel mines the inner lives of two teenage girls who have been left in charge of the family bakery as they wade into love and sex for the first time, complete with the nervous shocks that accompany those experiences. Love is not sentimentalized. Sex is not glorified or said to be oppressive. Rather, the characters' encounters with their most powerful inner emotions are revealed as ambiguous, painful and startlingly real. The plot is thin and a bit rocky at times. Caple's spare writing style is slightly uneven, as the story drifts between something approaching myth and a earth-bound rootiness. The range is wide, the treatment a little wobbly. Nonetheless, The Plight of Happy People is a remarkable first novel from a young woman whose talent is only just beginning to deliver.

Michael Bryson is the editor of The Danforth Review.







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