by Susan Ouriou
ISBN: 1894852052

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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."

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