Sunday, May 20, 2012

Canadian book challenge - 10th post

Closing in on my review target.  Actually just wrapped up three Canadian books this week (one of which I will not be reviewing) but I'm trying to review some of the books I read earlier before they completely slip my mind.

Kroetsch's What the Crow Said is a curious book.  It seems to be the book that is the most in the magic realist tradition whereas many of his other novels are largely realistic with some far-fetched elements. (Gone Indian is probably the least strictly realistic prior to What the Crow Said.)  But right from the start we know this is going to be a departure, when a teenaged? girl lies down in a meadow and is covered with bees, who not only bring her to orgasm but basically impregnate her.  I suspect that Kroetsch was attempting to transplant the Greek mythos onto the Canadian frontier, but then lost interest and mixed in all kinds of other legends and tall-tales.  This young woman is one of 5 sisters.  All of them have unusual courtships.  I'll probably get some of the details wrong, but this is basically what I recall.  One marries a man missing a leg (and apparently his testicles) but still manages to get pregnant from the "ghost balls."  One drives a convict crazy with her passionate letters and he spends much of his life trying to break out, which he does repeatedly, and join her, which I don't think he does achieve.  The father freezes to death on his plow, and then the mother has two suitors, including a man that builds a lighthouse out of ice blocks.  There is a card game that lasts a month. One of the sons was abandoned and raised by wolves, and then returns speaking a kind of pig-Latin.

For some reason this final detail about the pig-Latin bothered me more than almost all the others, and it kind of marked the moment when Kroetsch lost me on this book.  It just was too much, one crazy thing layered on top of another until it finally comes to an end.  One theatre reviewer puts it this way -- that a play (or novel) can have really odd ground rules, but once they have been established, then things must operate within those rules.  You can't just keep having random things happen, as the audience will lose interest because there can't be any "stakes" without any internal logic.  I really wanted the book to be better than it was, but ultimately the stakes were too low.  I suppose most of Kroetsch's novels with the exception of The Studhorse Man have disappointed me a bit for one reason or another.

This is review 10/13.

What the Crow Said

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