borrowing its central charac-ters and plot from Nightwood, Djuna Barnes's groundbreaking novel about Paris in the 1930s, Beth Follett's first novel about a faithless lesbian romance is a study in obsessive love.In this version, transposed to present-day Montreal, protagonists Nora and Robin are contemporary women working the queer bar scene and reading modern literature.
In fact, what works best here are the liberties Follett takes with the original and her heady portrayal of photographer Nora Flood's pathological hunger for self-acceptance.
Nora's desperate tale of passionate loneliness unfolds through stream- of-consciousness musings. As we follow her intimate path of self-discovery through her interactions with the people closest to her, the writing periodically breaks into rhythmic, lyrical prose that a poet who attended the book launch described as suspiciously reminiscent of Leonard Cohen's songs.
Nora is guided through the depths of her journey by her much-loved dead older sister, Jeanette, and by the ghost of Barnes herself. She ponders the dynamics of her childhood and dysfunctional family and pins her happiness on her affair with the sexually charged, masculine Robin.
Follett is the editor and publisher of the independent Pedlar Press, which publishes poetry and fiction. Like the books she edits, her writing is intellectual and cryptic, evoking the sensualist work of Jeanette Winterson.
Slant is not an easy read -- it's obscure and filled with references that sometimes make you feel that you have to head to the local library to brush up on your reading before you can finish the book.
Get past the detours, though, and it's worth the extra effort.
Tell It Slant by Beth Follett (Coach House), 147 pages, $17.95 paper. Rating: NNN