- Anne Cameron (Author)
Hardscratch Row. Harbour Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Anne Cameron (Author)
Sarah's Children. Harbour Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Tanis Macdonald
British Columbia author Anne Cameron published Sarah’s Children and Hardscratch Row in 2001 and 2002 respectively, so it is no surprise that the books display a striking similarity of style. Though strong on character, both novels resist a typical narrative arc in favour of an episodic structure. It is tempting to read the books as regional picaresques, but Cameron’s tough-talking women demonstrate a stubborn honesty that makes them more pragmatic than roguish. The plot movement of Hardscratch Row and Sarah’s Children is as familiar as the structure of television drama, in which action is employed to reveal a character’s foibles rather than to drive a plot. Cameron’s emphasis on the work of productive living rather than messy human dynamics has a certain feminist vigour, and the characters’ impatience with philosophy and bad behaviour yields some whip-smart dialogue. In these books, every female character speaks her mind with aplomb and wit.
Both books focus on the family as refuge in a harsh world, but Cameron’s romantic familial ideal is sharpened by her no-nonsense concept of a matriarchy. Her hard-working, hard-loving female characters are often paralleled by more vulnerable male characters, in an interesting but problematic reversal that proposes more questions than answers about men’s place in the matriarchy. In Sarah’s Children, two male characters are all but defined by their gratitude for their female lovers, while female family members mock a boorish ex-husband into submission. In Hardscratch Row, the supernatural figure of the Squeyanx acts as a pain monitor for two male characters who are traumatized by addiction and violence. Though the cover blurb calls Cameron’s Squeyanx “part ghost, part trickster, part Greek chorus,” the creature has neither the mischievous fatalism of the trickster nor the social sanction of the Greek chorus. The Squeyanx is the literal “spirit of the family” that only the disaffected but sensitized men can perceive as their sisters and mothers remake the world around them.
Cameron’s rural British Columbia communities feature families that make a function out of what might have been dysfunction, but she sidesteps some of the issues into which she purports to delve. In Hardscratch Row, a boy’s rescue from ritual abuse is mentioned but never addressed. In Sarah’s Children, references to an older man’s European war crimes are oddly oblique. The weight of these issues drags on Cameron’s matriarchal paradise, as the boy’s fear and the man’s guilt become just two of the problems that Cameron’s women solve through inclusion in the extended family, implying that whether one is a victim or a perpetrator, no crime is so heinous that it cannot be wiped out of memory by familial acceptance. Cameron’s gift for unpretentious dialogue would be welcome in discussing difficult topics within the context of a family dynamic; a practical matriarchal paradise must include a contemplation of the intractable legacy of the patriarchy, as well as an amelioration of its pain.
- Drag the Lake for Voices by Jennifer Fraser
Books reviewed: Treading Water by Anne DeGrace and Phantom Lake: North of 54 by Birk Sproxton
- Generation in a Coma by Kegan Doyle
Books reviewed: Noise by Russell Smith and Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
- Literary Exchanges by Louise Ladouceur
Books reviewed: In Translation: The Gabrielle Roy-Joyce Marshall Correspondence by Jane Everett and A Secret Between Us by Daniel Poliquin and Donald Winkler
- Fictions de Québecoises by Louise H. Forsyth
Books reviewed: Le roman québécois au féminin (1980-1995) by Gabrielle Pascal
- Approaching Earth by Tamas Dobozy
Books reviewed: The Bride of Texas by Josef Skvorecky and On Earth As It Is by Steven Heighton
MLA: Macdonald, Tanis. Hardheaded Women. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #186 (Autumn 2005), Women & the Politics of Memory. (pg. 119 - 120)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.