Before And Amr

by Katherine
269 pages,
ISBN: 0670824291

Post Your Opinion
New Women
by Joel Yanofsky

I TEND to distrust those "before and after" ads that appear in less literary magazines than this one. The problem is obvious: no one is encouraged to look their best in the "before" picture. Photographed in absurd clothes and unflattering poses, no one ever smiles or even looks remotely happy "before." the fix is in; the deck is invariably stacked. Reading the first two stories of Katherine Govier's latest collection of short fiction, which is,, incidentally, titled Before and After, I experienced the same sort of feeling.

Like her last novel, Between Men, Govier's new book is about the way things used to be for women and the way they are now. As the title and the dust jacket make a little too clear, "Before" is a moment when young women are .poised on the edge of a new consciousness." And "After" is "a time of the rewards of feminism."

It's hard to believe today, but there was a time - some 20 years ago for Govier's characters -when people really worried about having their consciousness raised. With the advantage of hindsight, Govier's memory of the way we were - of all the dumb things we did, said, and felt back then - is unambiguous, unfaltering, and a little too neat. In other words, the deck is stacked.

Before and After opens with "The King of Siam" - an earnest, depressing tale about a character named Jane, who learns, while she is living in Paris, that her mother has committed suicide. Govier rounds up the usual suspect: Jane's brutish father - a man so insensitive he wouldn't even let his wife sing show tunes around the house. Feeling a little self-destructive herself, Jane indulges in a onenight stand with a stranger. She seems prepared, perhaps even willing to embrace the same fate as her martyred mother.

Jane has a lot to learn about feminism. So does Althea, the protagonist of "Toronto/New York." We first meet Althea, a recurring character who shows up in four of Govier's 11 stories, at a turning point in her life - a time when she is expected to choose between "a dangerous, wonderful" future or a safe existence, buried under a. "landslide of afghans and bridesmaids" dresses." Unfortunately, the prospective fiance she visits in New York - a man who also has a lot to learn about feminism - makes her choice a predictably easy one.

Althea is further along on the path to what was once unflinchingly called self-actualization than Jane, but not much more. So when she is mistreated during a job interview in Toronto, she still misses the big picture:

She was unable to extend this idea of "unfair to Althea" to the generic observation "unfair to women." It was too early for such an idea with Althea...

Gratefully, though, what begins as a rather transparent course in Feminism 101 is redeemed by stories like "The New Thing I'm About To Do." Here, Govier's narrator, Tomi, finds herself in a predicament similar to Althea's, but the choice between what she doesn't want to become and what she hopes to be is less contrived and more ambiguous. As a recollection of a young woman's first tentative experience of work, friendship, and love, the story feels right -it resonates with a tender anticipation of the future. Tomi grows up a little

just enough so that she isn't a victim, but not so much that she becomes a mouthpiece for the author's overall theme of how unenlightened and insensitive we all once were.

Other stories like "Domain" and "Monte Carlo Night" also work well on their own - particularly when they are free from having to make the point implicit in the collection's title. In "Domain" what appears to be just another bleak glance at the way in which a character like Dora Grange - a put-upon housewife trapped in a hellish summer vacation - is controlled by her husband turns instead into a spooky, cautionary tale about the way relationships shift and evolve.

"Monte Carlo Night" is the first of Govier's "after" stories. It brings the book up to date and into the 1980s, a more liberated and more complicated decade. The story also brings back Althea'. When we last saw her in "Where Are You Calling From?" she was a wreck: unhappily married, then unhappily divorced, living more like a bum than a hippie.

Now, a decade later, Althea, at 33, has rebounded nicely. She is an '80s woman with a career and a younger man in her life. She also has something she lacked before: the ability to take herself and her life a little less seriously. While there was a time


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us