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Rogues’ Wedding

by Terry Griggs

Anyone who thinks writing is not a visual art should take a peek at Terry Griggs’ second novel, Rogues’ Wedding. Set in Ontario in 1898, the story follows Grif Smolders as he flees northward from London after being attacked by ball lightning on his wedding night, an event he perceives as a bad omen. His abandoned bride, Avice, vengeful and powerfully nonconformist, pursues him to Little Current, Manitoulin Island, where she intends an equally explosive reunion.

Theirs is an odyssey saturated with wonderfully freakish imagery. A man eats a newspaper while his nose drips blood. A woman’s hat, made of bones, is “like a bad dream … exhibited on the exterior of her brain.” Ogre-like facial features are “parasitical entities that had nuzzled into his skin and clung there with bat-like intensity.”

Iconoclasm lies at the heart of the novel. The closer you look at things – bugs, the sexes, social customs – the less familiar they become, until they no longer resemble themselves at all. For Griggs, every strange world is a portal into another equally strange one. With astonishing talent and control, she smashes apart Victorian society (and modern society by extension) and rebuilds it as a Swiftian fantasy, as raucous as Huckleberry Finn and almost as bizarre as Alice in Wonderland.

This is a rich mixture, intensely intoxicating and bestowing delicious feelings of hallucination. Farce and satire elevate to a kind of surrealism or Dadaism. Bugs mysteriously emerge from people’s mouths; pretty girls vanish through doorways never to be seen again; a crow dons a baby’s bonnet; a woman wears a trout on a ribbon around her neck. Like a labyrinth of words, a cipher of images, the novel defies one to look away, because its reality is redrawn (in distinctly feminist form) with every letter.

Writing as visual art? Reading is done with the eyes, after all, and after reading Rogues’ Wedding one comes away with eyes overflowing.