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Stepping Out Of Time
by Laurel Boone

PAUL GRESCOE claims to have at least one more "Dan Rudnicki Mystery" up his sleeve; let us hope it`s better than the first. The plot of Flesh Wound (Douglas & McIntyre, 218 pages, $24.95 cloth) isn`t gripping enough for the book to work as a mystery, and the characterization and thematic material aren`t strong enough for it to work as literary fiction hung on a mystery plot. Dan Rudnicki, "the world`s first Ukrainian-Canadian detective;" is Ukrainian only to the extent of italicized words and favourite foods; change the words, change the food, and he could be Dan Bear, Maliseet detective, or Dan LeBlanc, Acadian detective. The plot hangs on transsexuality and the medical, surgical, and psychological tribulations of transsexuals. However, the most important character has no more individual depth than Dan has, and we find out about her experiences and feelings through the creaky plot device of a diary. Even there, she writes in Paul Grescoe`s voice. And Paul Grescoe`s voice is irritating. Between bons mots such as "He was looking out over ahh-inspiring Howe Sound" and "[his voice] smacked more of over-baked Hollywood ham than the rare Hamlet I`d seen him do;` Grescoe/Dan talks and thinks like a fake Bogart. Instead of crediting his readers with knowledge or imagination, Grescoe inserts tourist notes, of which "Whistler, the ski and summer resort" is only the most egregious. Nor will Grescoe let the story speak for itself; he doesn`t miss a chance to take 40 unintegrated whacks at B.C. medicare cuts, the Canadian film industry, and other demons. Like Paul Grescoe, Ekbert Faas is an experienced writer in other genres, but by sticking a little closer to his specialty he has produced a thoroughly creditable first novel. Woyzeck`s Head (Cormorant, 272 pages, $14.95 paper) is a complex postmodern retelling of the story of the 19th-century murderer Woyzeck, whose defender tried to save him from execution by arguing that, being insane, he was not responsible for his crime. Faas focuses on the sinister motives of a doctor, who insists on retrials and delays so that he can conduct psychological experiments on the hapless Woyzeck. But Woyzeck`s Head goes far beyond the Georg Buchner and Alban Berg versions of the story, and beyond the historical documents, to suggest that the doctor, with his friend the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, paved the way for both Freud and Hitler. Woyzeck`s Head is not an easy book to read. It takes place in at least three different times: Woyzeck`s lifetime, ending in 1824; the youth of Hans Martens and his friends, the "Woyzeck Circle;` in pre-Second World War Salzwedel; and Hans Martens`s later search for all of the Woyzeck papers, in his desperation to prove his theory about the connection between that case and present world calamities. Indeed, the last entry in the "Principal Dramatis Personae" at the end of the book includes Hans Martens`s literary executor who, we suddenly learn, has collected and edited the whole book. In each of these time frames, the events of the time before become problematic, until the reader is forced to see history as valid only because of its resonances in the present. To tangle matters even more, actual people mingle with fictional people, and no one but a historian of the period could say for sure which characters lived in the world and which live only in this book. Editorial care would have mitigated the imperfections in Woyzeck`s Head. Translations of German and Latin phrases, quotations, and verses are necessary, but in a novel I would prefer to see them worked into the text rather than marked with single, double, and triple asterisks, and footnoted. Even numbered footnotes would give a scholarly instead of an amateurish air. The prose is a bit turgid, and modern conversation often sounds like literal translation. Nonetheless, Woyzeck`s Head is thought-provoking on many levels - literary, theoretical, psychological, historical, and artistic - and it repays the close attention it demands. Marlene Nourbese Philip`s Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence (Mercury, 84 pages, $10.95 paper) also steps out of ordinary time. Conceptually, it continues Nourbese Philip`s most recent book of poetry, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, the central metaphor of which is colonized Black woman`s search for an adequate language. Looking far Livingstone tells in poetry and poetic prose the saga of the Traveller, who journeys over thousands of years and through many allegorical lands to find Dr. Livingstone. By finding him, she hopes to discover "the Silence of infinite potentiality and possibility" that could replace the silence enforced on her race, and her sex, by colonialism. Nourbese Philip has called the book "a narrative in prose and poetry;" but for some unfathomable reason the publisher insists on calling it a novel. Whatever its genre, though, Looking for Livingstone is a powerful expression of a quest for the kind of self-knowledge that enables the seeker to know humanity. The heroes of ordinary boy-grows-up novels usually aim to know only themselves; the best of such books suggest that, should the hero continue to mature, this self-knowledge may lead to understanding of the human condition. Rosseter`s Memory (Mosaic, 232 pages, $14.95 paper), by John Levesque, stops with self-knowledge. Beginning before Giles Robert Rosseter`s conception and ending with his high school graduation dance, the book`s central question is "What is reality?" Bobby and his friend, Eddie, wrestle with the question in their childish and adolescent ways, and so do the adult characters. Bobby and Eddie are realistically drawn: funny but not cute, wise at times but far from precocious, and innocent in the blank way characteristic of real children and adolescents, but rarely recreated by the backwards projections of knowing adults. Kathleen and Steven Rosseter, Bobby`s parents, grope for reality in their own ways. Kathleen, a sensible girl tricked by lust into motherhood and trying to do her best, occasionally falls into Tupperware caricature. Levesque understands Steven more fully, even generating a little sympathy for this greying flower-child. Bobby`s grandfather, P W O`Hagan, is entertaining as long as Steven is around to bait and belittle; but as a dispenser of wisdom or a dead saint, he`s a bit saccharine. Rosseter`s Memory spans the years between 1963 and 1979, but only brand names, song titles, and Steven`s succession of Deeply Meaningful Experiences with dope, gurus, pyramids, and the like tie it to any particular time. Bobby`s valedictory speech is an attempt to open the book out to embrace the human condition, but the speech is out of character in content and delivery. Rosseter`s Memory is really about Bobby`s awakening to life, an amusing and lively variation on a tired old theme.

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