Family and Forever
- Lee Maracle (Author)
Daughters are Forever. Raincoast Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Althea Prince (Author)
Loving This Man. Insomniac Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Michelle La Flamme
The dedication to Maracle’s novel, “To my daughters Columpa and Tania—you so deserved the best,” hints at its central themes: maternal guilt and intergenerational trauma. The novel follows the mother Marilyn’s need for closure and closeness to her daughter despite the maternal guilt and pain she experiences because of her failings as a parent.
The dysfunctional family dynamics are framed by a larger mythic time. Depictions of traumatized land post-contact frames the story that unfolds and the universal mythic time affects Marilyn’s life story: “Grasses know stillness. Women know the grasses. Grasses feel this knowing .” In these passages, there is a timelessness associated with the eternal aspects of nature in the forever time of oral mythologies. The rape and bloodlust of the newcomers is conflated with the physical abuse of Native women in mythic time and in postcolonial time. In this way the physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual are linked to past and present.
There is immediacy in the first-person narrative that traces the ways in which trauma seeps into Marilyn’s consciousness through specific triggers. The disembodied aspects of Marilyn’s narrative provide a cinematic quality to the writing as she experiences herself remembering and responding to trauma and also views this process from a third person perspective. Marilyn’s desire not to remember and the ways in which memory forces itself into her consciousness are much like Toni Morrison’s techniques.
This novel outlines Marilyn’s maternal guilt feeding upon itself and the ways in which her trauma pierces the next generation. Like Morrison’s Beloved, this novel is replete with the walking wounded; adults filled with distrust and avoidance which inevitably scar the maternal-child bond in the next generation. Systemic analysis of fractured Native families is peppered by images of Marilyn’s own drunken stupor leading to her self-accusatory disgust. Alcohol is represented as a perverse and ultimately unsatisfying amnesiac which results in further dysfunction for the next generation struggling to move forward without healthy role models.
This is a matrifocal novel, which examines the role of the matriarch who passes on intergenerational trauma and which suggests the urgent need for matriarchs to heal from the past in postcolonial contexts. Maracle’s novel suggests that the results of colonial contact have left “desertion, stillness and bloodletting” as the norm for Turtle Island women. This post-contact world has meant that “the sound of motherhood has changed” as children’s bodies “carry memory. This memory of forever.” Here the psychic and spiritual memory of colonial contact is compounded with the legacy of intergenerational trauma making one’s memory of origin and intergenerational trauma “the really dangerous gifts children possess.”
Most important is the novel’s declaration and articulation of the idea that “Colonization is such a personal process.” Maracle draws on the historical and mythical context to frame this family story, she points to the need for healing between mothers and daughters to break the cycles of intergenerational silence and indirectly challenges a lack of accountability for abuse within Native communities.
In Loving this Man, slavery and racism provide the backdrop for an intergenerational exploration of a Black family and their tribulations in Antigua and Canada. Prince has no easy solutions to racism or domestic abuse but offers a clear depth of insight into the emotional impact of the past and the present on the self. Feelings are personified and a sense of their physicality permeates Prince’s novel: “Sayshelle could see her Mama Reevah’s feelings still making the journey out of the long-long tomb of their confinement. They were scraping a raw passage, using a new space that was tender from holding them in safekeeping for so long. The words tumbled out, and in their wake, they left ease.” These huge emotional issues are embodied in the characters and the novel becomes a somatic text, its attention given to the ways in which memory and experience are encoded and manifested in the Black female body.
The novel is physicalized through a number of bodies that appear in each section, bodies that have been affected by the central mechanisms of racism and sexism: traumatized bodies, racial qualifications decided by looking at bodies, bodies and water, floating bodies, bodies repressed because of pain, bodies longing for another body, beaten bodies, bodies removed from the familiar, bodies eating food, bodies disguising pasts, bodies that spill out of mothers, bodies that become our responsibility. Memories are embodied as are the histories of the parents’ experiences visited upon the children. In Prince’s novel it becomes clear that both “good hair” and light skin can provide one with privilege or stigma according to how it is framed within one’s community. These fine distinctions between colour gradations suggest a portrait of Antiguan race politics and some of the ways in which racial hybridity and racial qualifications are articulated in postcolonial contexts.
The last section of the novel, “Song of Sayshelle,” follows the “one bright light” in the family who leaves Antigua. Sayshelle writes, “I felt a reverb as I ricocheted from my life in Antigua to the unknown world of Toronto. And the journey lasted, shaking my body and soul for some time.” Echoes from the first half of the novel are felt throughout this passage through such direct and oblique references to postcolonial conditions of isolation, immigration and exile, only this exile is not one caused by slavery but one chosen by Sayshelle.
Prince’s depictions of Canada here has to be one of the most damning representations of this country. It is drenched in a blandness and cold reminiscent of Atwood. In Prince’s novel, survival is metaphysical and cultural. Sayshelle writes, “Toronto made my spirit poor.” Atwood’s important motif of survival is reconfigured in this novel to suggest psychic and spiritual survival of the immigrant of colour in Canada. In this novel, Prince’s lyrical command of language engages readers in an interiority of the experiences of Black women as colonial subjects and immigrants by focusing on intergenerational links and the mother-daughter dyad. In Loving this Man, she exposes the fictions surrounding an essential Black community through evocation of internal and external policing of identity. The postcolonial backdrop to her novel suggests a variety of localized ramifications of slavery and poses a direct challenge to the myth of Canada as a welcoming multicultural society.
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MLA: La Flamme, Michelle. Family and Forever. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #182 (Autumn 2004), Black Writing in Canada. (pg. 154 - 156)
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