CODE WHITE by Debra Anderson (McGilligan), 288 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN
McGilligan needs better editors. The last two books I read out of that press screamed for help. Emily Pohl-Weary's A Girl Like Sugar should have been sent back for a complete rewrite - the sentence structure is so repetitive, the book is almost unreadable.
Debra Anderson, a much more talented writer, should have been pushed a little further than Code White, her first novel, takes her.
Written as a journal, it tells the story of Alex's stay at a mental health centre, presumably the Clark, where she meets an array of troubled women. The material is meaty, and Anderson has a gift for conveying physical and emotional detail. We know precisely what Alex is thinking and can empathize with her responses to her situation.
The problem with Code White is simple: nothing happens. There is no narrative arc; being institutionalized and then being released does not constitute a plot. The characters have potential but don't change or grow.
Only Alex goes through something, and even at the end, we're not sure what. People disappear and reappear in her life for no apparent reason, and a reader desperately wants one. Alex's queerness and the way it plays out on the psych ward has potential as a source of conflict, but it's barely tapped.
This is where editors come in. Here is a writer, previously published in queer anthologies such as Bent, who's got the ability to push her issues. Sexuality is what makes her work sizzle there's no way it should have been treated so delicately.
There's lots of talent here - it deserves better care.
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