Thursday, May 17, 2012

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

Why Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre

Fans of CanLit likely remember Linden MacIntyre’s 2009 Giller Prize win for The Bishop’s Man, the second novel in his Cape Breton triology. Having made readers wait 10 years between the trilogy’s opener, The Long Stretch, and his prize-winning follow-up, MacIntyre evidently felt a rush to move on with the final novel in the trilogy, Why Men Lie. Was the rush worthwhile?

It’s a provocative title, to be sure, and it’s a reasonably bold book, examining its titular question through the eyes and life of a female character. This final novel follows the life of Effie MacAskill, sister to Father Duncan MacAskill, central character in The Bishop’s Man. It doesn’t directly stare down such heavy material as the child sexual abuse that forms the plot backbone of The Bishop’s Man. It has its own agenda, interested in the more general effects such atrocities have on communities and individuals’ private lives.

Effie is well into a contented-enough solitary middle age when she runs into an old Cape Breton friend on the St George subway platform in Toronto. JC has been off-the-radar with her crew for years, having been part of a crop of Canadian journalists recruited to American networks in the 1970s. His work has taken him all over the world and through countless human rights atrocities. Suffering the psychological trauma not uncommon in his line of work, he decides to come back to a tamer beat in Canada. The two embark on a tentative relationship, but it’s immediately apparent their respective baggage and Cape Breton ties threaten their bond and their health.

If this sounds like an overwhelmingly heavy read - well, it is and it isn’t, but the end result is entirely worthwhile. MacIntyre is the master of the light touch, using one well-timed phrase in dialogue or a raised eyebrow to convey what other writers would need pages to illustrate. This approach allows readers to - in a sense - choose their level of exposure to the darker themes that run through the novel. Tightly written, and with a photographic capture of Cape Breton culture and dialogue, this novel is highly recommended to any fans of dark, character-driven Canadian literature.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on May 17, 2012. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian. 

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