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Simple Things: The Story of a Friendship

by Karen Lavut

Karen Lavut’s memoir of her friendship with the painter Christiane Pflug tells a tragic but all-too-familiar story. Pflug’s life in many ways resembled that of poet Gwendolyn MacEwen – she was an attractive and extremely talented Toronto artist, highly regarded within art circles, whose life ended early. But unlike MacEwen, Pflug left behind a family – two daughters and a husband, Michael – when she took her own life at age 36.

Lavut was one of Christiane’s closest friends, and they saw each other almost daily. The author writes powerful, clear-eyed descriptions of Christiane and her family and recounts their numerous flaws and endearments without romanticizing. She recalls blow-out arguments in the Pflug household, as well as the times they were unbelievably happy.

The Pflugs were liberal with their daughters, Esther and Ursula, who swore and smoked pot in the house. But Michael was a controlling husband who practically forced Christiane into isolation for the sake of artistic discipline. “Every evening, Michael would examine the day’s progress over her shoulder,” Lavut writes. “If he wasn’t satisfied, he repainted parts himself…. He believed that she couldn’t paint without him, or live without him.” Lavut suggests that Michael’s domineering nature may be partly responsible for Christiane’s death, though she acknowledges, too, that suicide is a complex issue.

Lavut writes beautifully, moving gracefully from narration to dreams to Christiane’s letters while at the same time delving into her own struggles with her partner at the time, Jan. At times, the reader anticipates a clear, declarative statement from Lavut about how she really saw the Pflugs, but it never appears. Still, Simple Things is a great read about one of our best and still underrecognized artists.


Reviewer: Catherine Osborne

Publisher: The Mercury Press


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 174 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55128-072-8

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1999-11

Categories: Memoir & Biography

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