you get a kind of thrill reading Evelyn Lau. The force of her will to express herself is so huge, it jumps off the page in the raw and uncompromising prose of someone obviously loaded with talent. The girl just can't stop herself.That was obvious from her first book, the memoir Runaway, which recounted her life as a street kid and prostitute in Vancouver. And it comes across again in Inside Out, a slim but arresting collection of personal essays tracing her emotional development as a writer.
She begins with The Shadow Of Prostitution, a brilliant meditation on the assumptions she's confronted in others, and herself, since coming out as an ex-sex worker. Reality, she notes, gets in the way of the myths and the new romanticism swirling around sex work.
Inside Out gets into high gear with The Country Of Depression, a heartbreaking account of her own battle with the blues. Lau has no problem letting readers inside her head even at her worst times, and her writing is so precise and taut that you are literally pulled into the greyness with her.
But then she runs into trouble. After setting the scene with an essay on her obsession with father figures and another on how she hates to self-censor -- not for moral reasons but because she just can't stop the flow -- she launches into Anatomy Of A Libel Lawsuit.
This essay recounts what happened when ex-lover William Kinsella sued Lau for libel after she wrote about their relationship. It's designed to be the centrepiece of the book and to kick up some controversy. But it can't. It doesn't qualify as an anatomy of anything since the article says nothing specific about what Kinsella was so upset about. And all Lau can offer about her experience is that she got into lawyers for a little while and worried a bit about what to write next.
What we get from Inside Out in general is the work of a gifted writer, one who could do us all a favour by just letting it flow and sticking to fiction. In that realm, libel chill wouldn't cramp her style.
Lau reads Wednesday (March 28) as part of the Harbourfront Reading Series. See readings, this page.
inside out: reflections on a LIFE SO FAR by Evelyn Lau (Doubleday), 238 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN