canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


The Fall of Gravity
by Leon Rooke
Thomas Allen & Sons, 2000

Into the Fold
by Jacqueline Turner
ECW, 2000

Reviewed by Robert Pierre Tomas 

It is rare, when two books, chosen for review seemingly at random, have so much in common. At even first glance, this serendipity becomes apparent. Both books, the handsomely bound collection of poetry Into the Fold by Jacqueline Turner and an uncorrected proof of the latest novel by Leon Rooke, The Fall of Gravity arrived sporting the brightest, golden yellow colours of midday sun on a straight, empty road into the unknown.

Fittingly enough, both are explorations of that favourite North American obsession - the ROAD TRIP. In both cases, their literary pedigree is easily observed. Jacqueline Turner acknowledges her debts early on - in her dedication, she thanks Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Jean MacKay, Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard -all poets of note. Then there is the title, or rather titles, because Into the Fold splits neatly into the title collection and "Beyond Tongue".

It is R.B. DuPlessis "Fold" that the poet acknowledges, followed by D. Marlatt's "Touch to My Tongue". Is this a genuine key to J. Turner's poetry or just a red herring? Let the reader decide - both of those source books are worth picking up. Then comes the quotation from Roland Barthes: "The worldly, the domestic, the wild: is this not the very tripartition of social desire?" Ha, there it is - SOCIAL DESIRE. The obsessive need for the open road, for the wind in one's hair, for the blazing sun and the dust of unpaved trails. "On the Road", "Easy Rider", and now - "Into the Fold". That's not irony, not sarcasm either - Turner belong in this company by the very power of her language. "wet towel cold darkness draws us shadowy / we sing softly listen lightly" - with words like these, the magic spell of poetry is cast.

Before we have a chance to say "drive on!", we are taken for a trip around the poet's childhood, family, dead dog, dead friends and places, places, places.... Ocean beaches, dusty trailer parks, school yards, churchyards, courtyards. The poetry works here, on the high-revved level of fast connections, fast stumbling words and images that linger. "Beyond Tongue" is a less successful, less captivating companion collection - dominated by images of body, bodies, body parts and overrun by "fingers". Fingers, flesh, marks - these words swiftly wear out their welcome and become cumbersome, like reeds when swimming.

On the heels of the first exhilarating read comes The Fall of Gravity by Leon Rooke . A "straight up" road novel - or is it? A father, his precocious daughter and a fully anthropomorphized Infiniti car, chasing an escaped wife, mother and passenger across provinces of the North and states of the Union.

Film Festival movie buffs will remember the early 90's "Mississipi One" by Sarah Moon. Others can easily refer to Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins. Either way, The Fall of Gravity is a fast car of a novel, screaming by us at top speed, not caring to be admired or coveted, just feared. The language is in turns beautifully poetic, annoyingly mannered and highly stylized - grabbing the reader in spurts, and leaving him behind just as unpredictably. The novel forges on, the gleaming chrome details and the new car smell going with it.

Both road books, by Rooke and Turner, ultimately offer the very essence, the very temptation, the very nuisance of hitchhiking - no guarantee of getting to the final destination on time - or at all.

Robert Pierre Tomas's poetry appeared in an earier edition of The Danforth Review







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