GEORGE & RUE by George Elliott Clarke (HarperCollins), 223 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The deliberately over-the-top writing in George Elliott Clarke's George & Rue resembles the bombast of a beat poet on a caffeine jag.
Clarke's debut novel is a companion piece to his 2001 Governor General's Award-winning Execution Poems. Both deal with George and Rufus Hamilton, the author's cousins, who were hanged in Fredericton in 1949 for killing a taxi driver with repeated hammer blows to the head.
This fictionalized account of the two brothers' lives is also an exposé of the rampant race and class divisions in Atlantic Canada that provide a backdrop for his relatives' criminal behaviour.
Clarke's use of dialect in both narrative and dialogue places the reader inside the characters' world.
The tone at times seethes with rage, and Clarke is unapologetic in his use of violent imagery. Everything from a Maritime December wind to fingers hitting piano keys evokes the hammering of the brothers' crime.
Yet the novel's language is also its most limiting feature. Hyperbolic descriptions of the weather, the Hamilton household and the actual murder grow tedious with repetition and ultimately detract from the potency of his message.
The great strength of the book is Clarke's frank exposure of the patterns of racism and injustice endemic to African-Canadian communities in the Atlantic provinces at the time.
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