Black Star by Mau­reen Medved


UBC cre­ative writ­ing pro­fes­sor and nov­el­list Mau­reen Medved has au­thored an in­dis­pens­able novel that delves openly into the is­sues of gen­der, power, and priv­i­lege that plague academia. Black Star comes af­ter mul­ti­ple cre­ative writ­ing de­part­ments across Canada have made head­lines re­gard­ing sex­ual mis­con­duct in re­cent years. The re­sult­ing dis­courses have deeply di­vided the Cana­dian lit­er­ary com­mu­nity. Black Star, in its frank ex­am­i­na­tion of the deep-rooted ex­ploita­tions of power and corol­lary abuses of teacher–stu­dent re­la­tions, firmly sit­u­ates it­self as a cat­a­strophic al­le­gory for our time.

Delorosa (Del) Hanks is a forty-year-old phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor at a small-town univer­sity. Years af­ter the suc­cess of her first aca­demic mono­graph, pro­pelled by her es­teemed men­tor, John McGil­very, Del is up for ten­ure. But what ap­pears as a fait ac­com­pli is in­ter­rupted by an am­bi­tious col­league and a mys­te­ri­ous young man who threat­ens to ex­pose Del’s se­crets.

Hop­ing to se­cure ten­ure de­spite the at­tempts to de­rail her, Del rushes to fin­ish her sec­ond book, The Cat­a­strophic De­ci­sion. Dur­ing the writ­ing process, how­ever, Del is forced to con­front her com­pli­cated past, in­clud­ing a stu­dent–teacher af­fair with McGil­very that ended with an abor­tion. Un­able to shake McGil­very’s re­sponse to her abor­tion—“Christ, Del, no­body died”—Del has never stopped re­peat­ing his words as an at­tempt to process her un­re­solved trauma.

Del’s con­flict with her past and present sug­gests that the dark­ness, ag­o­nies, and rev­e­la­tions of “be­com­ing,” so typ­i­cal of com­ing-of-age nov­els, aren’t for­got­ten once some­one has “be­come.” In­stead, the mem­ory of life’s dark ex­pe­ri­ences, if they’ve ever left, can re­turn with more power and dev­as­ta­tion.

Gen­dered power dy­nam­ics are at play in Medved’s world and in Del’s. But where Del ap­pears ig­no­rant of the power and priv­i­lege that cre­ated the sys­tem that set her up, Black Star’s read­ers are likely not. Del’s strug­gle for ten­ure is the strug­gle to speak and move freely in a world still not fully open to this dis­cus­sion.

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