Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews


by Adam Pottle

With Apparitions, Saskatoon writer and Deaf awareness advocate Adam Pottle (Voice: Adam Pottle on Writing with Deafness) has crafted perhaps the most unsettling novel of the year, an account of violence and despair, isolation and mental illness. It’s a brilliant work that should not be overlooked.

The novel revolves around an unnamed narrator, who readers first encounter when he escapes captivity as a teenager. The teen, who, like Pottle, was born deaf, was kidnapped as a child by his father, and imprisoned in a dank basement with only a stained mattress and a bucket to use for his bodily functions. The lights are never extinguished, and he is subject to abuse and isolation. “My first language wasn’t Sign,” the narrator says. “It was violence.” When given the opportunity, he flees into the prairie. He is eventually found unconscious by a roadside and ends up in a psychiatric facility. With doctors unable to diagnose his deafness, he remains isolated and confused until he meets another deaf patient, Felix Jimson.

Felix is a charismatic loner who takes the narrator under his wing, teaching him Sign, and giving him a Sign name. This connection initially seems triumphant, nay heartwarming: “Everything in the hallway now glowed and rattled with secret life. Chairs. Paintings. The floor. The doors. The people. I wanted to wake up every object and every person with the same lightning the boy had given me.” But it quickly becomes another form of imprisonment. Felix is deeply troubled (his initial diagnosis is “paranoid-type schizophrenia”), and he begins to draw the narrator into his messianic delusions, referring to him as an apostle, and baptizing him into his new beliefs.

The material of the novel is disturbing enough (Pottle provides a content warning that includes “religious abuse, child abuse, graphic violence, sexual assault, verbal and physical abuse” – it should be heeded), but the narrative structure is truly unsettling. Because of his upbringing in the always-lit basement, with no one to teach him the basics, the narrator has no sense of time: everything occurs to him in a perpetual present. As a result, the novel shifts and veers, from his basement cell to the hospital to the narrator’s later imprisonment. There is no explanation for these shifts, nothing to ground the reader (save for the dates on Felix’s medical notes), which results in a sense of suspension and confusion. Nothing makes sense; everything feels like a nightmare. Writing from the narrator’s Deaf point of view, Pottle immerses the reader in his world, in his very soul. It’s a world of isolation, but also of considerable beauty (there is a scene with a spider that will break your heart); limiting the reader to the character’s perspective serves to deepen the disorienting nature of the novel.

But is it a novel? In the author’s note, Pottle writes, “This story is therefore a crude approximation of the original version, which was recorded on video at the Saskatchewan Federal Penitentiary in Prince Albert from October 1987 to June 1988. The narrator, whose real name exists only in Sign, was part of a study produced by a now-defunct non-profit group on how inmates were treated in prison.” The book is clearly labelled fiction, but this disclaimer (like the foreword of Lolita) creates a frisson of uncertainty, another means of unsettling the reader.

Despite its darkness, Apparitions is essential reading. Pottle has created a masterful evocation of the Deaf world, the violence inherent in our systems (and in our humanity), and a reading experience unlike any other.


Reviewer: Robert J. Wiersema

Publisher: Dark Matter Ink/Ingram Lightning Source


Price: $24.99

Page Count: 274 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-95859-818-4

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: December

Categories: Fiction: Novels, Reviews