Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

John Lent - Review of Monet's Garden by Craig McLuckie

Craig McLuckie, Okanagan University College

Lent, John. Monetís Garden. Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 1996. ISBN 1-895449-56-1. 117 pages. $13.95.

John Lentís linked story sequence, Monetís Garden, offers a complex and sensitive evocation of being. This is Lentís fifth book, his second of fiction. The writer shows a greater control of his image clusters, retaining his fine poetic sensibility from earlier volumes: A Rock Solid (1978), Wood Lake Music (1982), Frieze (1984), The Face in the Garden (1990). Lentís postmodern structure dramatizes an ongoing disintegration and recuperation of self in the unnamed narrator, whose "Roof" sequence intersperses the story of other characters, Rick, Jane, Neil, and Charles Connolly.

In the "Roof" sequence we have a narrator that creates Rick, Jane, Neil, and Charles as disparate parts of him/her self: "The voices that began in the car three months ago have stopped. Theyíve spun themselves out, all these parts of me. A small jazz suite moves into its closing chords, picking up the disparate threads...". In the ellipsis a suggestion of (re) fragmentation and further improvisation occurs. The opening story, "As Far as He Could See", precedes the first of the "Roof" sequence to emphasize previous improvisation, outside of the closed, circular structure: the book is open at both ends.

This is the most pertinent theme, one addressed in the narratives driven by Jane, Rick, Neil and the narrator. A freshness in Ďlifeí for the characters, whose narratives grow forth from the narratorís metafictional concerns in "Roof": "Sometimes we use metaphors because they carry us--like the hand, hose, water, cement and grass--farther into what happened rather than away from it." This meditation is expanded in Rickís narrative, "Room": "The smell of cool water on the stones and the gold of the sun dancing into it made Rick feel exhilarated, at home." And, in Janeís narrative, the title story, "Monetís Garden": "A shopkeeper...was hosing down the sidewalk in front of his shop, and the water there shone like silver across the flat black asphalt of the streets." The point is to the shades of language that we can deploy in relation to the commonplace, to evoke a sensory apprehension of being. Take joy in life, the writer asserts.

All of the characters are thoughtful, the point, is to go past the mindís defences (control, irony, ritual are a few Lent uses), to reach a greater openness to being. This is why Monet, impressionism, and Strasbourg are important, particularly in the evocative "Taste": "At first theyíd been disarmed by how physical the people in Strasbourg were. Rick and Jennifer were Canadians, after all, and had grown up in their heads." "They loved the communal street feeling of it compared to the closed houses and televisions back home." These might be a cliché, but the retention and transporting of what they learn into the narratorís sequence "Roofs in the Morning" ("collective", "physical texture of the lives") into that other life and culture.

The narrator is "reaching for metaphors". For example, in the story titled "The Bright Field", Charles, the siblingsí father, is dead, but his thoughts intersperse the rest of the familyís discussion (a structural cue to the text as a whole is given). Charlesí thoughts offer his epiphany on life in a poignant existential moment: the ability to encompass the familiar and the mysterious, to see their beauty and growth, and to surrender control: being, if only for a moment. The pungent echo of her fatherís gift in the North Dakota cornfield ("The Bright Field") leads to Janeís appreciation of a Frenchmanís gift ("Monetís Garden"), which, banal as it seems, allows her to see a landscape "of this world" and thus surrender "into the world". Similarly, Rick surrenders to the lived, experiential life ("Taste") and Neil aims for a middle ground between complete sublimation to and complete control over being ("Think of the People Behind You").

Finally, Lentís book is about the ways we order, engage, ritualize, and surrender to the space of being. In its figurative language and improvisational apprehension of lives, Monetís Garden has an appeal to artists, writers, musicians and especially to the general reading public because of its stress on the joys and freshness to be found in day-to-day existence.



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