here's a novel that springs from the imagination of one of the country's fast-rising poets -- Margaret Christakos has just copped the Bliss Carman poetry award out of Winnipeg -- and as with any poetic fiction, it's best relished line by line.The characters in Charisma give away their secrets slowly. Cameo, already pregnant, is hot for Mike the butcher, but Mike's gay. Her friendship with Mae is fraught with insecurity and desire. Mae's live-in boyfriend feels unappreciated -- and why not? Mae's got eyes for the girl next door. Everyone has gender issues here.
Cameo, in the meantime, wrestles with the memory of her mother, who was murdered by a hitchhiker. Cameo's aunt, a witness to the murder, hasn't shed the guilt. And with the birth of her baby, Cameo discovers more uncertainty.
The passions of these people emerge through short episodes drenched in metaphor. Christakos's language pays as much attention to silence as it does to dialogue, and the novel is as intent on tracking the inner lives of its characters as it is on telling a story. The author's sensibilities can veer toward the small things: getting the label off a jar of olives, worrying about a bathtub ring as a lover is about to arrive.
But her main preoccupation is with life-and-death matters -- the experience of an ultrasound, the awfulness of an abortion, captured in meticulous but never sensational detail -- and the events unfold in a Toronto setting, which breeds a pleasurable feeling of familiarity.
But this is the work of a poet and is by no means a page-turner.
Take it slow. It's worth it,
Christakos reads tomorrow (Friday, January 12) with Gianna Patriarca and Sonnet L'Abbe at IV Lounge (see Readings, this page).
CHARISMA by Margaret Christakos (Pedlar), 152 pages, $20.95 paper.
Rating: NNNNSUSAN G. COLEPoetic justice