THE GIRL IN SASKATOON by Sharon Butala (HarperCollins), 256 pages, $27.95 cloth. Rating: NN
Here's a book I really wanted to like. Sharon Butala is a skilled writer, and her passion for her subject is obvious.
The case of 22-year-old nurse Alexandra Wiwcharuk, who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1962, was never solved. You can't blame Butala for hoping she'll uncover something about her high school classmate that will crack the case. But even with new DNA technologies, she can't give us much of an update. To her credit, Butala warns us early on not to expect an investigative miracle.
She took on the project because she felt a connection to the doomed young woman. Both she and Wiwcharuk grew up on farms outside Saskatoon in the 50s, Butala part French, Wiwcharuk wholly Ukrainian. Intriguing info about Saskatchewan's Ukrainian community and the chapters on their high school life - sock hops, learning the lindy, sneaking drinks - vividly evoke a period and place we seldom read about.
Wiwcharuk was chosen to come up onstage when Johnny Cash sang The Girl In Saskatoon at a concert for 1,500 fans. But, typical of the book's problems, we learn more about Cash from the fact that once he heard about the murder he never sang the song again than we do about Wiwcharuk's experience that day.
The main issue is that Butala's connection to Wiwarchuk, even after 250 pages, remains tenuous. She'd also hoped her extensive research would give her some insight into her own identity, dreams and aspirations 50 years later, but the promised payoff never arrives.
Butala reads tonight (Thursday, November 27) at Walter Stewart Library. See Readings.