The Kingston Letters
by Lynn Crosbie,
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|First Novels - Bernardo & Everest
by Eva Tihanyi
At the time of this writing (mid-October), Lynn Crosbie's Paul's Case (Insomniac, 186 pages, $18.99 paper) has already caused a furor because of its subject-matter: Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, surely two of the most notorious murderers in Canadian history. Yes, the book hits a painful nerve. Yes, it is graphic. Yes, it is disturbing. But so are books about war, the Holocaust, child abuse-in other words, violence in any of its myriad manifestations. The question is not-or certainly should not be-about comfort zones. We each have our own, and they are subjective indeed. Yet, unfortunately, writers are often castigated not for being poor writers but for daring to put themselves on the line and write about topics that are "controversial".
Paul's Case is not a novel that will make you feel good. It is not uplifting or humorous; and it is not morally inclined in any conventional sense. In other words, it does not provide answers. What it does do is force readers to confront their own feelings about Bernardo and Homolka and in the process their own humanity: There is evil in the world; how do we deal with it?
The book is presented in fifty-two short sections representing a year's worth of weekly letters to Bernardo from an anonymous writer. It began as a non-fiction magazine essay, but when Crosbie realized such a piece could not contain the emotional spectrum inherent in such a story, she turned to fiction. The result is not a straightforward narrative, but a collage of quotations from newspaper articles and literary works, song lyrics, poems, script-formatted dialogue-even a cartoon strip. As the letter writer says to Bernardo: "I will present you in fragments. And make a fragment of you." But rather than pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, what we find are pieces in a kaleidoscope. When you give them a shake, they reconfigure into a different pattern. There is no one "final" picture.
Crosbie's method, like her choice of subject, will not be to everyone's liking. But I hardly think the author deserves the venom-such as the Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno's threat to rake her nails across Crosbie's face should she ever run into her-that the book has generated.