The final chapter of Be Good, the debut novel by Toronto writer Stacey May Fowles, begins, “Everyone is posing again.” It’s a fitting description of the book itself, which is deeply concerned with questions of dishonesty and self-representation.
The novel chronicles romantic intrigue and drunken philosophical revelations in the lives of three twentysomething Montreal women. After a summer of slumming, their lives become less carefree, and each tries to flee the city. No-nonsense Hannah leaves for Vancouver to chase a doomed romance, while the enigmatic Morgan escapes the continent on the dime of an older lover, trying to avoid her dying mother. Melodramatic sidekick Estella makes a botched suicide attempt.
Fowles’ prose is polished, her coming-of-age characters authentically self-absorbed. The novel is told from the alternating points of view of the women and their interchanging paramours. In lieu of straightforward plot development, each character comments upon the actions of all the others, exposing pride and lies all around. This device adds a layered, meditative feel and enlivens Be Good’s central ideas – that all narrators are unreliable and that memory itself is a form of dishonesty. But it creates a sense of detachment as well. When everyone’s personalities and actions are dissected by everyone else, the reader is twice-removed from the story.
Fowles’ complex characters are both unlikable and charming. Hannah may be disingenuous and condescending, but it’s hard not to love someone who names her pet mice Cyndi Lauper and Linda Ronstadt.
Be Good has a few jarring moments – in an angry diatribe, Hannah lashes out at a lover for a chronic drug problem that has barely been mentioned before – but all in all, the novel offers a thoughtful examination of sexuality, relationships, and what it means to tell the truth.