Friday, June 22, 2018

11th Canadian Challenge - 24th review - Passing Ceremony

Helen Weinzweig's first novel is highly experimental.  In this reprint of Passing Ceremony by House of Anansi press, her editor, James Polk, recalls that Weinzweig sent the novel to him in a big box and instructed him to throw the pages in the air and reassemble in that order (apparently taking a page from the John Cage handbook).  It's probably worth noting that she was not even represented by the press at that time!  I don't believe that Polk literally followed the instructions, since there is a very rough shape to the novel, starting with a few scenes that occur during the wedding ceremony with the rest taking place during the reception afterwards.  Still, it is clear that there is no overall plot to the novel, but rather it is composed of interior glimpses (often only half a page) from the various attendees at the wedding as they remember previous interactions with the bride and groom (most often the bride) or wonder whether this union will last. 

The cumulative effect of these is not unlike Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, though Passing Ceremony is a bit easier to follow, as it is organized around a single day in the life of this new couple.  Nonetheless, I did lose track of several of the wedding guests and only remembered the ones with a particularly juicy backstory, including the bride's father who had fled to Mexico and married a young Mexican woman about the same age as his daughter.  He brought his wife and their infant son back to Toronto for the wedding.  Several of the bride's former lovers turn up, and at least one contemplates interrupting during the ritual, while another expects to pick back up after where they left off at some point after the ceremony.  I'm fairly sure that the groom's (male) lover is not in town, and the bride tries to comfort him over this.  It isn't entirely clear why she enters into a lavender marriage, as the groom isn't attracted to her at all, but perhaps it is simply to take herself out of dating pool and to break, once and for all, from her former lovers.  This is definitely a quirky, unconventional novel, but it is a quick read.  I would almost classify it as a grouping of prose poems.  I am finding that I am still thinking about it, several weeks on from finishing it, which is generally a good thing.  I'm looking forward to reading Weinzweig's 2nd (and unfortunately last) novel, Basic Black with Pearls.  I'll probably get to it this fall.

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