Myth and Memories

Reviewed by Jan Lermitte

Dominic’s and Giangrande’s texts share a link between memory and landscape, events, emotions, and impressions that invites readers to experience an emotional connection with the central characters. Readers familiar with current theoretical approaches to literature that examine trauma, memory, and history will find both narratives rich with meaning. Although Midsummer is a fictional novella, Giangrande’s engagement with memory and traumatic events echoes Dominic’s close examination of a young woman’s life.

Magie Dominic is an artist, poet, and writer. Her award winning book, The Queen of Peace Room, chronicles Dominic’s life story. Street Angel, the sequel, focuses mainly on her Newfoundland childhood. Both life-writing texts describe not only her experiences and memories, but also the historical events, politics and popular culture of the time. In Street Angel, Dominic uses short lists that include movie titles, names of celebrities, and pop songs, to create an image of her cultural milieu. The daughter of a Catholic Lebanese salesman and a Presbyterian Scottish homemaker with untreated mental illness, Dominic is unflinching about her stoic navigation of childhood. She poignantly describes enforced silence and daily strappings by the school’s nuns, and a home life marred by poverty and her mother’s “affliction.” Short repetitive accounts of daily life, such as “Pray, supper, pray. Homework, pray, sleep. Up again,” capture the sense of drudgery and loneliness that characterize her childhood, but also provide an effective contrast to her poetic reflections on the Beothuk people and Newfoundland’s history. Dominic emerges as a brave and determined young woman who finds a way to make her dreams a reality by attending art school and reveling in the “pulsating, neon explosion” that is New York City in the 60’s. Dominic’s memories, while often sad and traumatic, reveal a child who is inherently brave, hard-working, and optimistic.

Carole Giangrande is a writer and broadcast journalist. Her novella, Midsummer, chronicles a young woman’s awakening to the influence of family myths and intimate relationships. The atmosphere Giangrande creates is mysterious, mythical, and passionate. The story, narrated by Joy, a middle-aged woman, takes place in only a few days. However, as Joy prepares to join her family and disgruntled father in a celebration of her aunt and uncle’s fiftieth anniversary, she reflects on her family mythology, her youth, and the events that altered her life’s course. The celebration takes place in the restaurant above the twin towers in New York City. For readers, this location evokes a sense of foreboding as we recognize the connection to the tragic events of 9-11. Giangrande carefully constructs the family myth that centres on the twin towers and becomes tied to a family tragedy that is central to the story. Memories and flashbacks of feelings and experiences swiftly move the plot. Ultimately, family discord, unmet expectations, and compromise ease into tenuous forgiveness. This is a novel that moves gracefully through time and memory, with a cast of characters that is both believable and charming.

I recommend both of these texts as meaningful reflections on childhood, family, and the self-determined lives of two young women.

This review “Myth and Memories” originally appeared in Radio, Film, and Fiction. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 225 (Summer 2015): 135-136.

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