I think this will be the last of Laurence's books I will read. Well written, to be sure but in the end, depressing. Rachel, a 34 year old spinster Grade Two teacher (how predictably tiresome is that?) lives a life of quiet desperation, tyrannized by her petty-minded Principal and her guilt-tripping mother. She finally meets a man who manages to awaken her sexually (sort of) but who(probably realizing what a hopeless case she is) leaves town without so much as a phone call. The only interesting aspects to Rachel's life appear to have been a false pregnancy and a visit to a religious gathering where folks become ecstatic (delusional?) and "speak in tongues" (a.k.a. gibberish).
This follows more or less the pattern of each one of Laurence's main characters: women who, for one reason or another cannot cope with the lives they lead, long to experience something better/different/cataclysmic (who knows?) and in the end just go on being the boring people they are.
This modestly short yet ambitiously deep novel is already a favourite. Such a strong characterization (the lead), in a seemingly simple story that's unencumbered by convoluted sub-plots, nor laden down by what in a decade some would want to call its feminist core. I found only minor flaws: the mother I thought was etched rather unsubtly; and some brief imagined conversations and scenes worked only all right -- which is a tall rung below the finely-developed rest. Never guilty of a real misstep, this book is full of beautiful images, neat turns of phrase, and plenty of other stylistic tidbits that dazzle nearly 50 years after it was penned. Not least of its feats is the central character: nicely shaped with a subtle humour yet great feeling. What a strong novelist, what a talent! About as good as any Canadian writer I've admired (Robertson Davies; Richler on a good day; Atwood at her very best). A most impressive small masterpiece.
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