Monday, August 10, 2009

the women must die

have you ever read a book that is so good it makes you think i could never write like that, not in a million years? Ann-Marie MacDonald does that to me. Her novels are so intricate, her characters so compelling, so tragic, it makes me want to give up writing fiction. i just can't do it the way she does. her novels are long, full of recurring symbolism, historic events - a kind of realism that exposes itself as romance.

Before i had heard of Ann-Marie MacDonald, i noticed a play at the library where i worked. The title intrigued me: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). i didn't realize it was by the same author as a novel i was reading for class, Fall On Your Knees. really, i should find the play and read it.

MacDonald's novels are huge, physically imposing books. They are masterpieces of feminism; i would venture to label FOYK as a female epic. The books question Canada, Canadian nationalism, history, official versions of things, memory and remembering. The truth, these novels suggest, will come to light, despite official attempts to erradicate or white-wash events. (at least, i'm assuming that The Way the Crow Flies will do this; i am almost finished the book but not quite). These novels are beautiful, haunting tales of sexual abuse of children, of girls growing up into women, of women asserting their place in history. They are dark, but FOYK resolves itself with hope; hope that "the truth shall set us free". i'm not sure that TWTCF can do the same because it questions truth on a deeper level; "the truth lies".

i wrote an essay about FOYK, comparing it with Jenny Sampirsi's is/was; my prof gave a name to what i was doing: exploring death-writing. Figures of dead girls and dead women permeate these novels. i am considering writing another paper adding TWTCF to the mix. Death-writing, the opposite of life-writing.

The novel i'm writing now is beginning to feel very bland to me. Perhaps because i am steering so clear of the death-writing that i love to explore academically, but am afraid to approach creatively. Why are the corridors of literature strewn with dead females? Desdemona and Juliet, Ophelia, Lady Macbeth . . . they were not the beginnning of this trope, but i feel i haven't delved nearly deep enough into the ladies of Shakespearean tragedy. There is something here, something that says "the woman must die". Why? So that her body can serve as a screen for anxieties: sexual, social, racial; the collective anxieties that plague every culture. The female body is a screen. On that screen, fear is projected by men, by other women, by family, by strangers. The women must die. The girls must die, before they become women.

Murdered. There is something disturbingly sacrificial here. An open wound that begs to be probed.

Eventually, i hope i will feel up to the task. i'm sure someone else, someone more qualified, will (or maybe has already) explore the dead women of CanLit. But i'm conducting a seperate, private investigation. i have to. the literature, the characters, they deserve it.

1 comment:

  1. I feel the same about MacDonald, especially FOYK,a masterful female epic- great label. Also very interested in the reasons behind these female tragedies and why the women must die. Guess I'm not saying anything new here, just wanted to let you know i enjoyed the post.