by Sue Goyette
289 pages,
ISBN: 0002005069

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Suffering Beautifully
by Maureen Lennon

In her debut novel, Lures, poet Sue Goyette demonstrates that she possesses, in spades, perhaps the single most important ability necessary for the creation of good fiction¨a facility for creating characters who linger in the memories of readers. Her extraordinary powers of observation capture the telling details of ordinary lives superbly. Before we even remember that we are reading fiction, she sets ten characters before us who could be people we have known all our lives. And while she has set her story in the familiar arena of family and familial conflict, she examines her subject like a master archaeologist returned to a well-dug site, armed with the patience and determination to uncover what others have overlooked, or failed to imagine. The treasure that she ultimately gives readers is a breath-taking examination of the art of human communication.

The story is set in Beaumont, a commuter town located in the townships east of Montreal. Two families, the McIntyres and the Evans, are linked through the friendship of their teenaged daughters, Grace McIntyre and Lily Evans.

Les McIntyre, husband and father, is a compulsive shopper and a constant self-lionizer. His behaviour is a cover for another horrid, torturous compulsion that he is barely able to control. His wife, Sheila, is obsessed with cleaning. Every piece in the house that can be, is covered in clear plastic. What she can't scrub away, however, is her growing suspicion about her husband. Gary, the eldest child and only son, lives in a haze of cigarette and marijuana smoke and a numbing stupour of loneliness in the family's damp, cold basement. He spends his nights wandering the town's dark streets, avoiding Ralph, his vicious drug supplier. When Goyette takes us inside his mind to experience his pain and isolation, against our better judgement we become as convinced as Gary of the hopelessness of his situation.

The characterization of the sadly neglected Grace, Gary's younger sister, is heart-wrenching. Grace longs for something that she knows she can never have¨one scrap of normality in her life. Time after time, the author uses simple, dramatic observations to give us this young girl's portrait. In one scene, Grace, whose life lurches uncertainly from hour to hour, asks for luncheon meat so she will at least have something to take to school in her sandwiches. Her utterly disengaged mother tells her that the meat is too expensive and that her brother will gobble up an entire package at a time. If it's lunchmeat Grace wants, she should chop up a hot dog instead. On another occasion, having been locked out yet again, Grace visits Lily to escape the cold. Sitting on the end of Lily's bed, she says that nothing is wrong. But then we witness Lily glancing at the badly chewed tips of Grace's fingers. Still another time, we see Grace, without refuge, sitting on a curb with the equally neglected, mistrustful family dog, recognizing that even the dog is screwed up.

In the Evans house, Stan, recovers from his most recent outburst of anger by ingratiating himself to his wife and children. He strives to act like a model husband and father, getting up early to make his two youngest children hot oatmeal for breakfast, packing his young son's lunch, returning home in the evenings to help make dinner, and tucking his children into bed with a kiss every night. Here Goyette does an excellent job of making the reader face an uncomfortable reality. People are full of contradictory impulses; redeeming character traits are frequently to be found among less palatable ones. By comparison with Les McIntyre, Stan is likeable because he is making an effort to be a better person. As we watch him struggle, we realize that there is something of Stan in all of us. However, his violent outbursts have already damaged the family. The eldest son, Jerry, refuses to come home, preferring instead, to live in the woods surrounding the house. Eliza, Stan's wife, retreats from his anger into her sketching. Lily, chronically anxious about her narrowly circumscribed daily existence, reads obsessively everything she can get her hands on, hoping it will be enough to win her a scholarship to university and a new life. Six-year-old Curtis is nervous. He can't stop counting things or examining his world in detail through the binoculars he carries with him everywhere. Only the hilariously opinionated, soother-sucking, whistle-blowing, four-year-old Dellie is unaware of life's dark side. She wanders in and out of the rooms of her house, chattering non-stop to her family about the things that make her happy. Hers is the voice of innocent exuberant joie de vivre before the fall. Goyette's depiction of this endearing little girl is positively inspired.

There won't be a parent anywhere reading this story who will not feel deeply Sheila McIntyre's regret at not having accepted her son Gary's invitation to sit on the picnic table with him for a moment to enjoy the sun one afternoon. Nor will any parent be able to watch Curtis's withdrawal into silence, his crushing self-judgement, and his parents' inability to coax from him an explanation about what is troubling him, without revisiting their own failures to keep the lines of communication open with their children.

Lures is a story about how we touch each other¨about all things, both good and bad, that we unintentionally transmit; about things left unsaid that should be spoken; about things we can't say; things we do say but shouldn't, and things too oft-repeated. It is about the indelibility of words and actions, the inability to reverse what should never have come to pass. ˛


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