BE GOOD by Stacey May Fowles (Tightrope), 183 pages, $18.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
Though a cover blurb for Stacey May Fowles's first novel proclaims it to be essential reading for women in their 20s, Be Good is also essential for 20-something men.
I say this because, as a man in his 20s, I found Fowles's characters eerily familiar. I have known women like Morgan, whose glamorous, seductive exterior belies her insecurity, and Hannah, who uses her innocence to hide her wisdom - especially from herself.
The novel follows Hannah and Morgan's relationship, alternating between the narrative voices of the two women, their suicidal friend Estella, the men in their lives and various locales: Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
Thus, Fowles builds a constant tension between the external world and how it is filtered by want and need. Most significantly, the reader can nearly see the gears of Morgan's and Hannah's defence mechanisms grinding away as they justify their unsatisfying, bordering-on-abusive relationships with men while denying their attraction to each other.
The book made me regret how I had judged certain women from my past, and I have the feeling that other young men will have a similar experience.
Unfortunately, Fowles's male characters are less strongly developed. Middle-aged lover Mr. Templeton comes across as a stock character.
The strategy of using the cities as narrators is also problematic. These voices are authentic, their harsh honesty contrasting with the characters' deceptions and self-deceptions. But Fowles allows the cities only a few pages each, so she wastes the opportunity to give her novel a more balanced, layered narrative.
Ultimately, the worst thing about Be Good, and I rarely say this about a novel, is that that it's simply too short.
Fowles appears as part of Pages' This Is Not A Reading Series on Tuesday (October 14) to help launch another book, Fear Of Fighting. See Readings.