Be Good

This is Stacey May Fowles’ first novel, and it definitely proves that she’s a writer filled with talent and insight. It’s the story (though I use the term loosely — and I’ll get back to that in a bit) of a group of mostly twenty-somethings who move back and forth across Canada and the world, finding and losing each other and themselves in the difficult world of sex and relationships.

Each chapter of the novel is narrated by one of the characters — mostly either Morgan or Hannah, usually portrayed as the bad girl trying to be good and the good girl wanting to be bad, respectively; but also by their various boyfriends, lovers and acquaintances, and even by the cities in which they live (the latter having the most objective and unique observations).

A primary theme that emerges throughout all the accounts is the relationship between memory and storytelling, and how what we perceive and what we prefer inevitably interferes with our understanding of events.

Fowles expertly shows this by the contradictory portrayals of how the characters think of themselves, and how they describe each other and interpret the same occurrences, often resulting in opposing viewpoints. The writing is sharp and evocative and shows a deep level of sympathy for the characters and a keen psychological understanding.

The only problem, really, is that nothing much happens. This is a criticism that I’ve had of lots of Canadian fiction before and I guess it’s just a matter of personal preference, but the novel reads more like a series of first-person character sketches than an actual story.

Every character is extremely self-aware, and this makes them all tremendously interesting and compelling, but the majority of the novel is dedicated to them describing who they slept with and how they felt afterwards, which, while definitely a typical subject of obsessions for the kind of people the novel is about, also doesn’t add up to very much in terms of narrative consequence.

Still, the strength of the writing makes Be Good a very enjoyable read, and I hope that in her next novel Fowles will display as good a grip on describing the unfolding of events as she has on the inner drama of the psyche. (Richard Rosenbaum)

by Stacey May Fowles, $18.95, 183 pgs, Tightrope Books, 17 Grayton Cres., Toronto, ON, M6E 2G1, tightropebooks.com

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