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Recurring Fictions

by Wendy McGrath

Recurring Fictions, Wendy McGrath’s first novel and second book after the poetry collection common place ecstasies, is a prose poem about growing up on the Prairies. The book opens as a meditation on the sound and meaning of trains, which leads to memories of the narrator’s parents and grandparents and of her own childhood.

What comes through most vividly is the sense that each generation must endure its own tough times and literal and symbolic dangers. The narrator’s father lays the foundations of houses, and his daughter is terribly aware of the treachery of his job: “If the basement cracked it would let in water. A leaky basement a leaky foundation the elements waiting to come in. This had to be done right the first time.”

The book is full of the halting rhythms one associates with lyrical prose – think Virginia Woolf’s The Waves – but here the abstract fragments distance readers rather than draw them in. This rambling collection of domestic scenes and childhood memories lacks the intensity achieved by paragons of the poetic-prose genre, and most of its stabs at passionate expression are contrived or, at worst, downright kitschy. Descriptive details are piled on each other in an effort to lend the book tactile weight, when what is needed is an emotional anchor.

Some of the minutely rendered passages recall Alain Robbe-Grillet’s obsessively abstract works, but 50 years later the avant-garde edge is lost: “These are not church walls but the walls of a small house built on a hill and facing east. These are the walls of a house made real by the movement of a soapy rag held in a fist. This movement across and down the pale yellow walls…”

Ultimately Recurring Fictions becomes itself a recurrence of worn-out literary tropes. McGrath’s strongest epiphanies – such as “Memory’s infidelity is the ultimate betrayal” – are borrowed from the concordance of truisms we all carry around.


Reviewer: Jana Prikryl

Publisher: University of Alberta Press


Price: $14.95

Page Count: 160 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88864-389-6

Released: June

Issue Date: 2002-8

Categories: Fiction: Novels