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The Hippie House

by Katherine Holubitsky

In her third novel, Alberta author Katherine Holubitsky explores the after-effects of the rape and murder of a teenage girl on a small Ontario community, as recalled by narrator Emma, who was 14 at the time. In the summer of 1970, Emma and her cousin Megan hung out at the shed on her father’s farm, dubbed the Hippie House, where her older brother Eric and his rock band rehearsed. It became the local haunt and, later in the fall, the site of Katie Russell’s murder.

The memoir-like retrospective structure of the novel, while providing the advantage of an adult perspective and understanding, results in a loss of dramatic intensity. Too much of the episodic narrative, which unfolds over the course of a year, is a summary of events. Though there are many powerfully evoked, acutely observed scenes, Emma’s distanced Our Town Stage Manager-style narration and muted voice doesn’t strongly enough transmit what she’s like and how traumatic Katie’s murder was for her.

For Emma, the murder erased her blithe confidence in life. For Megan, it fuelled her “seize the day” hunger for experience. For many others, it led to distrust and a suspicious eyeing of each other. The first of several suspects was Megan’s troubled older brother Carl.

Despite this novel’s limitations, Holubitsky’s strengths – her emotional perceptiveness, her graceful, nuanced writing, her painfully true depictions of teen life – shine here.