If there isn’t a category of literature known as Maritime Postmodern, Kenneth J. Harvey continues to make a case that there should be, with himself as its leading proponent. Like 2006’s Inside, about a wrongly convicted man attempting to reintegrate into society, Reinventing the Rose deftly explores themes of alienation and lays bare the interior life of its protagonist.
Anna Wells, a Newfoundland painter struggling to create art in her oceanside retreat, discovers she’s pregnant by her gynecologist boyfriend, Dr. Kevin Prowse. Her life is turned upside down when she finds out that Kevin is suing her for return of his “property” – he wants to force Anna to have an abortion.
Although slow at times, the book picks up the pace once the media become aware of the impending court case. Sympathetic waitresses refuse to let Anna pay her bills so that she’ll have money to fight the lawsuit, and the value of her canvases skyrockets. Her physical isolation becomes simultaneously soothing and oppressive.
Interspersed with Anna’s story are snippets detailing the steady progression of her fetus, reminding us that time is of the essence in a clinical, legal, and compassionate sense.
Anna’s own well-being becomes secondary to the courtroom circus – a female protestor immolates herself, and an attorney snaps a cellphone photo “for the book he plans to pen on the case.” The media pontificates about what Anna should do with her baby, the health-care system treats her with casual brutality, and the legal system imposes its crushing weight on her life. Harvey nicely captures the ontological dissonance between Anna’s life and the effects of her actions and decisions on the world at large.
Anna eventually tries to flee, but when she is recognized at the airport, events take on a horrific, inevitable life of their own. How is it possible, the novel asks, for one sane person to prevail in a world full of mad and ignorant individuals and institutions?