- Holley Rubinsky (Author)
Beyond This Point. McClelland & Stewart Ltd. (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Deborah Torkko
Holley Rubinsky’s Beyond This Point unflinchingly captures an unwillingness to confront the truth of what is, to be honest with self and others, and to recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary. Rubinsky shows that “[t]he truth is seldom welcome,” but it is still possible to face dark and painful circumstances of life and death, love and betrayal, despair, and hope.
In this novel the rawness of geography and human struggle mirror one for the other the resilience of both. The setting is Ruth, a fictional town in the heart of British Columbia’s interior, a place where forest fires rage and where the “land grows rocks. . . . And it is always on the move, in secret nooks and crannies underground.” It is a place where Rubinsky’s female characters learn to navigate the underground secrets at the heart of their emotional lives. It is the place where emotions and rocks share common ground: emotions and “rocks will continue to surface forever. They will keep turning up like the truth.”
A refusal to listen to the heart, the novel cautions, begins to make one “deaf and dumb and blind against whatever was wrong.” But these women do, at last, listen and arrive at the irrevocable “moment of a choice,” a turning point. They “wrestle not against flesh and blood but . . . against powers, against the rulers of the darkness in the world”: sudden death, adultery, incest, and small-town secrecy. The novel opens with Kathleen’s abrupt change from wife to widow: a massive heart attack kills her husband. Lenore is in a “long time marriage falling apart,” and her long time passive martyrdom manifests in “intestinal trials”: “bowel disease, diverticular disease, or ulcerative colitis.” Mory hitchhikes from Lasqueti Island to Ruth with her eleven-year-old child of incest, the grandson her parents “had never seen,” to face her depraved parents and her sexually abusive father’s imminent death. Lucinda organizes self-awareness workshops at the Centre for Light Awareness but prefers, instead, to exist in the dark. She takes “no chances that cognizance might rear its unwelcome head” on what she is unwilling to admit about her fifteen-year relationship with Gabriel. Davida is in a loveless marriage to a man she claims is “chronically disgruntled” and has the personality of a “pit-bull.” Her assessment, however, is compromised by her secret relationship with Miriam, a woman she loves and whose lifestyle she esteems.
Rubinsky does not structure her novel in a linear narrative. She weaves one character’s story into another’s within the novel. Some of the characters in this novel appear in stories from the author’s first two collections: At First I Hope for Rescue (1997) and Rapid Transits (1990). Rubinsky’s complex interweaving of stories holds together in a novel that enacts the importance of stories to a fuller understanding of how and why these women are “interconnected and interdependent.” The novel is preceded by an epigraph from Margaret Atwood’s “The Loneliness of the Military Historian,” and, like the historian in that poem, Rubinsky presents “what [she] hope[s] will pass as truth. / A blunt thing, not lovely. . . . [Her] trade is courage and atrocities. / [She] look[s] at them and [does] not condemn.”
Her unflinching eye is an empathetic one, understanding that her characters, in all their complicated humanness, “couldn’t be wholly bad. Meaning that most humans were not found in a clearing.” Hers are characters found in personal, familial, communal, historical contexts that precede them but contexts, nevertheless, in which they “are always complicit.” Rubinsky charts the transitory passage from the familiar to the unknown with all the struggle and grace that a life truthfully demands. Her characters eventually yield to the unknown: “[t]here was a point beyond which living was intolerable, the point beyond which it was impossible, for instance, to tolerate being a person no one liked, beyond which tolerating your pity for yourself and keeping a stiff upper lip were not simply doable.”
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MLA: Torkko, Deborah. Interior Geographies. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #191 (Winter 2006). (pg. 180 - 181)
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