by W.P. Kinsella
Damselfish has Hope, a struggling artist from Montreal, living on
grant money in Mexico City, when her crabby older sister Faith,
joins her. Their father, who was Mexican, deserted the family years
before. Their mother now lives in another part of Mexico. Hope
finds herself a boyfriend, Jos, who is every woman's fantasy,
handsome, understanding, a great lover, apparently employed, and
willing to put up with all sorts of icky family problems, the kind
that would send most men screaming into the hills. Faith turns out
to be pregnant, and the pregnancy is not going well. The mother
reenters the picture, but all three have huge issues, mainly to do
with the father's disappearance, a disappearance that is dragged
across the pages like a rotting red herring, though nothing ever
comes of it.
The metaphor of the title, about a fish protecting its space against
intruders, is overworked and obvious; we are hammered repeatedly
with images of these three women as aggressive fish protecting their
territory, though they have no visible enemies. Though a very short
novel, there is a lot of filler. In the first half of the book,
Hope's narrative lacks emotion; it becomes a factual reporting of
mundane events. I'm reminded of people one meets, all too frequently,
at cocktail parties, who have the mistaken impression that they
have led interesting lives, and insist on inflicting them on you.
As Faith's health deteriorates, the three women become closer.
Ouriou strives mightily for profundity where little or none exists.
Hope is a sneak who reads her sister's diary, then peeks at her
mother's diary, written in hopelessly poetic language. Elsewhere
the language is often so out of control as to make one cringe at
pretentious lines like "Veins like seaweed bulbs burst, flooding
my empty womb with ocean spray." And, "I had to stop
halfway, crying tears of sand."