CHERRY by Chandra Mayor (Conundrum Press), 128 pages, $14.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Conundrum is one of my favourite Canadian publishers for two reasons. They love cross-genre narratives by badass females. And their design is consistently clever and striking, which complements their volumes' compact size. Chandra Mayor's first novel, Cherry, is no exception. The attractive image of the blue-haired girl spliced on the cut-and-paste cover urged me to pick it up from a table cluttered with earth-toned Canadiana.
Mayor makes a collage of poetic prose, newspaper clippings, letters from jail and photographs to offer us a first-person account of being a young woman in the early-90s Winnipeg skinhead scene.
As soon as I read the word "skinhead," I got sweaty and apprehensive. I spent my teen years in a suburb where skinheads thrived.
But my discomfort dissipated once I was into the first few pages. Mayor's haunting language and broken-hearted descriptions take the reader through the adolescence of a nameless narrator.
She and other females listen to each other getting raped, give their money to their boyfriends and are both witness to and victim of countless acts of brutality.
Terrorized by her violent relationship, the narrator is driven crazy by the endless series of rooming houses she inhabits.
The narrative is broken up with newspaper clippings about gay-bashings and murders in downtown Winnipeg. The multi-layered story unwinds intricately to the end.
Cherry offers a poetic look at the complications of desperation and poverty, with hope and intelligence. The punk rock backdrop makes Cherry a unique and compelling first novel.
Mayor launches her book at the Cameron Tuesday (May 4). See Readings.