Monday, June 04, 2007

Six Weeks to Toxic

by Louisa McCormack (Toronto: Key Porter Books, Ltd., 2006)

It alarms me that so many interesting novels by women can be picked up for a song at the Vancouver Public Library. It delights me, but it alarms me, because this means the books have been de-accessioned and are no longer circulating from the library shelves. However, I've checked the online catalogue, and this one, at least, can still be requested - there are three copies available.

I bought it mainly because the author has worked for CBC Radio One, and I love CBC Radio One, it's one of the best things about living in Canada. (Of course, if you don't live in Canada you can still listen online.) According to producers I've heard explaining this, each CBC program has a carefully outlined plot structure, with planned delights at fixed points on the show's clock. As a formula, it works. Their shows also tend to have mysterious titles (like DNTO, which was recently replaced by Q), and so Six Weeks to Toxic seemed promising.

Actually, when I started reading it I was a little shocked - there was a lot of language that even in Canada you might not want to be reading out on the radio. Canadians are more insulted by violence and intolerance in media than USAns and less by sex and excretion, but the CBC recently got reprimanded by the CRTC, for allowing the word fuck to air, in a violent if literary context, at a time when children were likely to be listening.

In Six Weeks to Toxic, two close female friends expose a lot about their bodily functions and sex experiences, and even write a faux magazine for each other's enjoyment only, with the telling title of Gash.

In my day, we did all that stuff, and sometimes wrote about it, but we were always conscious that we were being transgressive. In this writing, acts committed with food are more blatantly transgressive than those committed with sex.

Another thing that shocked me was thinking "oh, so this is chick lit and I'm reading it!" There were a lot of descriptions of clothes and men and envy of others' physical attributes. What kept me going through this part was that the heroine is a foley artist - a person who makes the sound effects that accompany movies, and one of the most interesting careers to read about. Did you know that you can make the clinking sound of a knight's chain mail clothing by manipulating the links of a key chain?

The other thing that kept me reading was the teaser description in teeny letters on the book's cover: "Women break up with men all the time. But there are no rules for breaking up with your best friend..." Anyone who has ever had a friendship that became oppressive can't help but be intrigued by that story line.

The book is short, and I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that my opinion of the heroine steadily improved throughout the book, and the boyfriend and his dog both grew endearing as well. Plus, everyone in this culture McCormack depicts has a tongue-in-cheek way with words that is so not baby-Boomer-earnestness that it's refreshing. So, if you're in Vancouver and you have a VPL card, you might want to check this out.

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