Joanne Arnott in Breasting the Waves: On Writing and Healing writes with great effort, feeling her way toward expression and sense without giving her life away as if it were in the “miscellaneous” box at a garage sale. Arnott begins and ends with her story of being held hostage and beaten by a man she met on her way to university. The meaning of “hostage” (but not “victim”) is questioned over and over in the book as Arnott remembers growing up female, Métis and abused. She approaches herself respectfully. The essays blur seminar-style information and fiction-style narrative; but straight fiction might have allowed her more intensity. Also, the title of this book undermines Arnott’s seriousness with an unnecessary play on words. And while I loved the shape and feel of the cover, the image seemed wrong; at first glance it made me skeptical of the contents.
Speaking of jarring but effective writing, Bud Osborn’s Lonesome Monsters (Anvil) successfully dramatizes the harsher side of urban life. This book, though it doesn’t break new ground in form or content, depicts the Main-and-Hastingses of North America in unpretentious and straightforward poems. The modesty with which each poem is constructed underscores the sadness and despair that their characters feel. Osborn’s sense of humour and his portraits of violence, exploitation and heartache, easy to overdo, survive my distaste for melodrama and even survive the text’s unflattering typeface. Apparently Osborn’s been writing for twenty-five years. Where has he been all this time?