The Wise & Foolish Virgins

by Don Hannah,
384 pages,
ISBN: 0676970990

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First Novels - Slippery Memory
by Eva Tihanyi

The Wise & Foolish Virgins (Knopf Canada, 426 pages, $29.95 cloth), by the award-winning playwright Don Hannah, is a story of intersection (perhaps "collision" would be a better word) set in a small New Brunswick town called Membartouche. Hannah goes to painstaking lengths to set up his characters' various courses-an approach that, unfortunately, makes for some slow reading during the first few hundred pages. Nonetheless, once one figures out who's who and how each is involved with the others, the book becomes an intriguing tale of small-town life governed, for all its supposed intimacy, by a deep and surprising loneliness. No matter how long people have lived side by side or how much they know about one another's business, the basic truth is that each is very much a solitary being.

Readers of Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees will find a similar "gothic" sensibility at work here. There is no shortage of secrets lurking under the daily routines, the social faces: teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, incest, family feuds, even a kidnapping of sorts. While Hannah's writing doesn't soar quite the way MacDonald's does, he certainly manages some wonderful passages. One character, for instance, steps out of his pedestrian, duty-bound world to "breathe a new, strong air. It was the air that Bach had breathed when his hand flew across the empty staves, dropping notes from his pen like dark brilliant stars."


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