Something Drastic / Colleen Curran
Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, c1995.
This is a reread, a very funny epistolary novel by a Montreal writer and dramatist, one which I first read many years ago when I lived in Montreal. I thought it was time to reacquaint myself with the fabulous Lenore.
The book is made up of letters written by Lenore to her boyfriend Fergie, a man who unexpectedly up and left her on Boxing Day to move to Florida. At the beginning of the book, Lenore is understandably upset, angry, and confused, and is certain that he is just taking a break and will be back soon. She writes him long letters trying to figure out his motives. She is a good-natured person, and tries to express her anger in a non-threatening way, mostly through humour. She makes lists of why she thinks he left, she includes clippings of strange deaths and tragedies from the local papers, and increasingly includes mention of all the things she does now that she never would have done if he hadn't left.
The primary instigator for this expansion of her life is Lenore's new friendship with her upstairs tenant, Concordia professor Heidi Flynn. Heidi is involved in women's studies, and takes Lenore to all sorts of avant-garde performances and meetings, introducing her to a whole new circle of self-possessed and active, independent women. At the same time Lenore invites Heidi into her world, particularly to the historical theme restaurant in which Lenore is a singing waitress. The Festin makes me laugh, being based on the real-life Festin du Gouverneur, a place I did go to once during my Montreal residency. Lenore's singing talents bring her to the attention of theatre friends of Heidi's and she explores a whole new theatrical experience, another thing she never would have done with Fergie around.
Lenore's year-long, unreciprocated correspondence reveals an immense arc of personal growth. When I first read this I really enjoyed this aspect, but this time around I did find it a little bit condescending, with Lenore now being self-actualized through becoming more artsy, intellectual and feminist, and further away from her quétaine roots. I still enjoyed the story, and I still felt that Lenore was a fabulous, eccentric and fun character, but felt a small hesitancy over her complete overhaul.
But aside from this small reservation, this read was still entertaining, amusing, evocative of Montreal, and made me laugh aloud at times. It's a great example of how the epistolary format can work -- Lenore has a perfect reason to be writing, at first, and later on keeps writing out of habit, though the later letters can become more descriptive and journal-like. There are also a couple of letters included that are addressed to Fergie by Lenore's friend Heidi, letters that threaten him and result in some money arriving in the mail for Lenore. The letters are full of daily life, but one that is full of larger-than-life episodes, with many characters all crossing paths and constant drama occurring, even while Lenore keeps her head and reports it all. It's an amusing tale and one that is still enjoyable, one that I will read once again some day.