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by Christy Ann Conlin

There have been many successful novels that never venture far beyond the confines of a single character’s mind. But if an author is going to set such narrow parameters, then there had better be something interesting going on inside their hero’s head, be it vigorous intellectual debates, a maelstrom of emotions and ideas, or a unique personality. Christy Ann Conlin’s Heave, a portrait of 21-year-old Seraphina Sullivan and her friends and family in rural Nova Scotia, rarely breaks free of a cocoon of post-pubescent moping and undergraduate philosophizing.

Seraphina, the narrator, is precocious, sensitive, and more sinned against than sinning. She is more often than not lost in memories that tend to shore up this image of the victimized artist, and she responds to life’s trials by retreating into self-reflection and alcoholism.

The novel follows what has become a rather predictable format in literary fiction: a short scene set in the present trails off into the private reflections and overlapping memories of an overly self-conscious narrator. Eventually the narrator “comes to” and rejoins the present scene, setting off another string of associations. This emphasis on the narrator’s thoughts and feelings usually comes at the expense of narrative flow and the other characters’ thoughts and feelings.

One chapter, set in a psych ward after Seraphina blacks out in a bar, illustrates this problem especially well. After a long, moment-by-moment recounting of Seraphina’s internal monologues interspersed with memories, Conlin dispenses with a potentially dramatic and character-revealing scene at an AA meeting in less than two pages. Conlin also refuses to let the psychiatrist who interviews Seraphina become more than an opposing game piece in her battle against the world’s corrupt institutions.

When Conlin does venture beyond Seraphina’s gloomy reflections, Heave comes alive. The dialogue is laced with profanity and wit and follows an organic rhythm responsive to character and situation. The scenes between Seraphina and her two best friends are particularly strong. The reader never doubts the depths of their feelings for each other, even though they have little in common anymore.


Reviewer: James Grainger

Publisher: Doubleday Canada


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 260 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-385-65807-9

Released: Jan.

Issue Date: 2002-1

Categories: Fiction: Novels