The sagacious and singular worldview of 15-year-old narrator Grace is the most memorable aspect of Corinna Chong’s debut novel. Grace is the second of three children from her mother Belinda’s two marriages. Along with her siblings and stepfather, Wiley, Grace is left behind in Calgary when Belinda decamps to England to investigate crop circles.
In Belinda, Chong has created an unsettling, honest portrait of a woman who admits she never wanted to be a wife or mother, and feels suffocated by her obligations. Belinda’s true passion involves investigating coincidences, signs, and patterns. The unearthly perfection of crop circles represents a stark contrast to Belinda’s home life, which she is unable to see as “symmetrical and invariable.” Her life is more like “a guilloche pattern,” in that it “appeared smooth and uniform on first glance, but when examined slowly, it revealed many layers of lines turning in unpredictable directions.”
The unpredictable direction Belinda’s life takes, and the impact her choices have on her family, are central to the novel. But radiating from this centre are themes and storylines that include Wiley’s mental breakdown, Belinda’s reunion with her estranged sister, and Grace’s coming of age as a mixed-race teen possessed of her own fascination with strange underwater creatures.
As the narrative voice, Grace guides the novel, and rescues it from the brink when Chong gets carried away with too many unresolved plotlines or attempts to force symbolic connections between, for instance, wedding rings and crop circles.
Despite the novel’s periodic unwieldiness, Chong’s talent is undeniable. If she can complement her skill at developing character and voice with the creation of more sustained, cohesive storylines, her future in CanLit is assured.