Lyri­cal jour­ney through love shines

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Les­ley Hughes

DIONNE Brand is a Cana­dian writer who, in a more thought­ful world, would need no in­tro­duc­tion. In that same world, Cana­di­ans would be as fa­mil­iar with and proud of her work as they are of the work of Mar­garet At­wood, Alice Munro and Mavis Gal­lant, all of whom have brought in­ter­na­tional ac­claim and high gloss to the rep­u­ta­tion of Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture. The Toronto poet and nov­el­ist has never com­plained about a lack of pub­lic recog­ni­tion, and in­deed would be wrong to do so. Her ac­com­plish­ments are abun­dant: she is a win­ner of the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s Lit­er­ary Award, the pres­ti­gious Trillium Book Award and, with the pub­li­ca­tion of her most re­cent col­lec­tion of po­ems, Os­suar­ies, the Grif­fin Po­etry Prize. From 2009 to 2012, she was poet lau­re­ate of the city of Toronto, the city she calls home. She is a noted teacher at the Univer­sity of Guelph. And yet the men­tion of her name to many Cana­dian read­ers is still met with “Who?” Per­haps Love Enough, a lyri­cal jour­ney through love as we un­der­stand it at this mo­ment in his­tory, will es­tab­lish her once and for all in the first tier of Cana­dian writ­ers of lit­er­ary fic­tion. As in her pre­vi­ous works, no­tably What We All Long For, In Another Place, Not Here and At the Full and Change of the Moon, Brand takes on a for­mi­da­ble land­scape: this time, love in many of its shapes, the love be­tween lovers, friends, fam­ily, the love of ideas, and of land­scapes, whether they be wild or ur­ban. In all cases, her sub­tly crafted ques­tions are the same: Why don’t we love enough? Why do we feel pow­er­less in the face of love with­held? Why do we, all of us, feel like emo­tional refugees, yet leave a trail of sim­i­lar refugees in our wake? Love Enough is a se­ries of sur­re­al­ist sketches, a gen­tle, elo­quent, in­sight­ful col­lec­tion of souls and cir­cum­stances, brim­ming with pas­sion and pol­i­tics and shim­mer­ing glimpses of for­give­ness. In this novel and in Brand’s work in gen­eral, it is some­times nearly im­pos­si­ble to iden­tify and follow a con­ven­tional plot. Dra­matic ten­sion arises be­tween char­ac­ters, to be sure, but it’s of­ten emo­tional, trav­el­ling back and forth in time, and find­ing sud­den but sub­tle res­o­lu­tion. The great sat­is­fac­tion for read­ers is be­ing able to spot th­ese mo­ments. Of a dope dealer and his clients emerg­ing from a neigh­bour­ing al­ley and seen by a clean-liv­ing cit­i­zen, Brand writes: “They looked at her, lazily... not in­ter­ested enough to stay and judge, they hur­ried in the next di­rec­tion them­selves.” Brand is in­ter­ested. She stays. She dares to judge, but in spite of her mer­ci­less eye for sear­ing and some­times­sor­did de­tails, she judges with mercy. And so the mem­o­rable char­ac­ters step out of the clichés where lesser writ­ers might leave them: June, the prodi­gal bi­sex­ual lover, Bedri, the frightened thug-in-wait­ing, Sylvia, who washes her face with Clorox and seems com­pelled to bleach the city of Toronto. It is per­haps Da’uud, the So­mali taxi driver, who best il­lus­trates Brand’s gift for build­ing character. He sees things, knows things, his heart and spirit have been bro­ken more than once. He would tell you valu­able things if you had the pa­tience and the com­pas­sion to lis­ten: “There was a red haired woman he dropped off to meet a man in a se­cluded place. Da’uud looked at that man and knew he could kill some­one, but he re­mained silent. ‘Who lis­tens to a man from another world?’” Love Enough is clearly the work of a writer who knows and is faith­ful to her enor­mous tal­ent for ob­ser­va­tion and sto­ry­telling. Les­ley Hughes is a Win­nipeg-based writer

and broad­caster.

Love Enough

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