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Book Reviews

Dorothy L’Amour

by Lynn Crosbie

When B.C’s own Playboy celebrity Dorothy Stratten was killed by her ex-lover in 1980, the Vancouver newspapers reported the facts of her murder with something of a subtle agenda. They played up her innocence and child-woman freshness in order to highlight the ugliness of her death. They reduced her in order to mourn her. At the time, there was a picture of Stratten that ran repeatedly, showing the stunning teenaged Dairy Queen employee looking wholly dewy, without guile or any kind of intellectual presence, as if brutal, go-getting guys could talk her into anything. Looking at that snapshot, you could believe that Stratten lacked the kind of inner voice that would protect her from her own skin. Novelist Lynn Crosbie understands how the media can provide unjust epitaphs for girls like that, and in Dorothy L’Amour she revisits the Stratten era.

Written as if Stratten had kept a memoir, the book introduces us to the girl who moved from a modest Dutch background on Vancouver’s East Side to the spoiled glitz of late 1970s California, where Stratten’s hustler boyfriend, Paul Snider, manoeuvered her into a dim showbiz career after scoring big with Stratten’s first Playboy centrefold. There’s a thinly disguised Peter Bogdanovitch (the film director who introduced Stratten to better things, and edged out Snider), and an almost unrecognizable Hugh Hefner.

Smartly researched, occasionally acute (Stratten’s encounter with a booze-soaked Dean Martin feels absolutely accurate), this book has only one problem: it reads like the diary of an aspiring writer – one with a weakness for impressionistic, Governor General’s Award-ish lyricism – not like the words of a down-home, lovely bunny with a fatal weakness for guys who beat her up. Crosbie would have us believe Stratten harboured such thoughts as “Thinking about Greek necessity: the logic of rage, the basilisk winding,” and, worse, “I watch him spreading like the sea of spirits, greening the plot where he lies with seedlings, more fissile still.” The novelist is, of course, free to give Stratten any voice she wishes. But with this book, Stratten’s haunting newspaper picture – a portrait of a sweet kid who never got a chance to tell us about herself – seems to belong to someone else.