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Sunnybrook: A True Story with Lies…

by Persimmon Blackbridge

Until Sunnybrook, visual artist Persimmon Blackbridge wrote as part of a team, often exploring mental health and anti-censorship issues. Her co-authored books include Still Sane, the postcard book Drawing the Line: Lesbian Sexual Politics on the Wall and the Lambda award-winning Her Tongue on My Theory.

Now the Vancouver-based Blackbridge has gone solo with her first novel, and what a fresh and exciting book it is. Sunnybrook – which is based on a recent series of sculptures – is best described as a gallery novel. The reader is invited to stroll through a sequence of stunning art, episodic fiction, and first-rate graphic design, only to absorb the impact of the whole after leaving.

The story is narrated by a woman describing her double life in the mid-1970s. In one world, she is known as Diane and works as a one-to-one counsellor at Sunnybrook Hospital. She hides her personal life from her co-workers, hides her learning disability from her employers and her well-meaning steady girlfriend, and struggles to adapt to the mental health system she despises. Depressed by her job, Diane spends more time drinking in a lesbian bar – where she is known by her other name, Persimmon. This leads to an affair with Shirley, who becomes her confessor, and who pushes Persimmon to break free of artifice once and for all.

Blackbridge’s prose is direct and stylishly simple, alternating internal and external dialogues. The bluntness of her writing contrasts beautifully with the theme of deception that runs through the novel. Truth and lies are constantly presented, sorted, and re-sorted, in the narrator’s attempt to tell her story. Sidebar commentaries accompany the main text, giving behind-the-scenes information as if the reader is accompanied by both the artist and a gallery docent on a tour of the novel. Throughout the book, excellent work by designer Val Speidel keeps these parallel texts crystal clear. Sunnybrook is both a visual treat and a thought-provoking examination of a woman coming to terms with herself.


Reviewer: Kathleen Hickey

Publisher: Press Gang


Price: $23.95

Page Count: 96 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-88974-068-2

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1996-12

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction, Fiction: Novels