Tribe of Star Bear

by Victoria Mihalyi,
ISBN: 0888878303

I Give You My Word:
The Autobiography of Mary, the Mother of Jesus

by Patrick Donohue,
352 pages,
ISBN: 0968324401

Her Last Decision

by Harley Mack, Joan C. Pawlikewich,
217 pages,
ISBN: 096832620X

Healy Park

by Graeme Pole,
ISBN: 0969724918

The Quilted Heart

by R. M. Vaughan,
192 pages,
ISBN: 1895837391

Baser Elements

by M. Malcolm,
ISBN: 1896300324

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First Novels - 1998's Last Call
by Eva Tihanyi

This is Eva Tihanyi's last First Novels' Column for Books in Canada, but it is certainly not the last time we shall hear her voice in these pages. For the past four years, Eva has fulfilled the monumental task of reviewing every single first novel that has come her way (approximately 200 in total), and she has done so with grace, integrity, expertise, and, when required, a touch of delicious humour. Her decision to resign was occasioned by her desire to devote more time to her own creative pursuits. While we shall certainly miss her as First Novels' Editor, we are very happy that she will continue to contribute in other ways. Thank you, Eva, for your dedication to the magazine over the years. Our new First Novels' Editor will be introduced in our next issue. (D.K.)

Certainly one of the strangest works of fiction to cross my desk this past year is I Give You My Word: The Autobiography of Mary, The Mother of Jesus (Arcadie Books, 352 pages, $18.95 paper) "as told to" Patrick Donahue. Donahue states his purpose clearly in the Prologue: "This book will focus on Mary's thoughts and feelings. It will reveal the intimate, behind-the-scenes life that the gospels overlook." In order to achieve this, he creates a first person narrative where Mary speaks for herself, tells her own version of the story. We catch glimpses of Jesus' childhood as he builds forts, plays with friends, and is doted on by his grandfather. We empathize as Mary discusses family problems and admits she "didn't understand Jesus any better than anyone did".

The style is colloquial, the tone casual, and the book is sure to have its detractors (i.e., anyone who believes that no mortal writer should tackle such a sacrosanct topic to begin with). As Donahue himself admits, "It may seem presumptuous for a writer who is neither female, Jewish, nor a virgin to take on the autobiography of Mary", but he is not entirely without credentials. He spent over five years studying to become a Roman Catholic priest and has delved previously into the religious realm in the non-fiction work, Grappling With God: The Naked Truth About My Spiritual Life.

Just as "the gospels were written not so much to record historical fact but to teach lessons about the meaning of Jesus' life", so this book seems less concerned with its "literariness" than with showing Mary as a human being rather than as a religious icon. In this, it succeeds.

Baser Elements (NeWest Press, 246 pages, $8.95 paper) by forensic specialist Murray J. Malcolm is a capably executed, run-of-the-mill detective novel set in Regina. The protagonist, John Smith, is neither a private detective nor a police investigator, but a forensic consultant specializing (like the author) in toxicology and alcohol. He takes on the job of locating a missing university student named Stephen Waller, at the request of the young man's worried mother. Stephen, a chemistry major, works for a small local chemical company-one which might be manufacturing a form of speed. As Smith searches for the boy, he discovers that Regina, too, has a dark underside and is not immune to the dangerous elements present in most urban environments.

A far more innovative mystery novel is R.M. Vaughan's A Quilted Heart (Insomniac, 160 pages, $18.99 paper). This campy tale of "gay obsession, jealousy, and love" begins when Police Inspector Foulard finds the body of Marsh Cole in the empty swimming pool of an old house in Quebec's Eastern townships. The house belongs to Samson Brindle, and as the notebook Foulard finds with Cole's body reveals, it holds many secrets, including the ghost of Sylvain Ouelette (Samson's young lover), the manuscript of Sylvain's novel (hidden), and the story of a gay love triangle which led ultimately to betrayal and murder.

Vaughan succeeds in interweaving Cole's, Brindle's, and Ouelette's versions of events, and the effect is much like that of a quilt-the whole being comprehensible only when all the pieces have been sewn together.

Her Last Decision (Breakaway Press, 217 pages, $12.95 paper) by Harley Mack is a trendy, suspenseful novel about a timely topic: euthanasia. Dawn Campbell, a nurse in the ICU ward of a large hospital, wages a fierce battle with her administrative superiors over Mrs. Hillary, an elderly patient who is being kept alive by a technology she has clearly stated she doesn't want. She is ready to die peacefully, but no one-neither her relatives nor the medical staff-will allow her to make this decision for herself.

The requisite bad guy is Dr. George Earle, the doctor in charge of Mrs. Hillary's case. He hates Dawn intensely-she's too attractive and independent, and has not only rejected his advances but has questioned his medical judgment as well-and he wants to see her fired. This desire escalates considerably when Dawn accidentally walks into a bedroom at a party and finds Dr. Earle in a compromising situation with the fifteen-year-old son of a hospital board member.

Aside from the stereotypes-and there are many-the novel is compelling, if only for the chilling descriptions of forced medical care inflicted on the elderly and others who will not or cannot complain.

Healy Park (Mountain Vision Publishing, 283 pages, $16.95 paper) by Graeme Pole is a tedious tome dealing with Banff National Park: park policy, environmental law, short-sighted bureaucrats, greedy park administrators, demoralized staff. Certain park officials are intent on marketing the mountains. They want more tourists and are trying to create "new opportunities for them to part with their money". Consequently, a scheme to start a "backcountry hiking business" meets with their approval: "It was clear that the highway twinning proposal was counter to Parks Canada's guiding operational pinciple-the preservation of ecological integrity. The assessment admitted that a net decrease in biodiversity would result in the Middle Bow Valley. It was also clear that as both proponent and evaluator of the project, Parks Canada was in a position of conflict-of-interest." I quote this segment to illustrate the tone and style of the entire book. Healy Park has an axe to grind, and it grinds it relentlessly.

Finally, there is Victoria Mihalyi's Tribe of the Star Bear (Borealis, 238 pages, $14.95 paper) intended for readers aged eight to twelve. Inspired by a Hopi Indian prophecy that "[w]hen the Earth has been ravaged and the animals are dying, a tribe of people from all races, creeds and colors, will put their faith in deeds, not words, to make the land green again", the Tribe of Star Bear-a bear, an eagle, a squirrel, and a human girl-set out to defeat the Rumblers, destroyers of the forest. They encounter danger and setbacks but their bravery prevails.

Mihalyi, who in the late `80s ran the Toronto Humane Society, has written a mythical tale that delights, like the best of children's fiction, by not talking down to its audience. However, there is nothing particularly original about it, and the publisher's claim that adults might enjoy it the way they do Alice in Wonderland is certainly debatable.


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