Sarah Dearing's Courage my Love (Stoddart Publishing Co Ltd., 196 pages, $22.95, paper, ISBN: 0773762108) is a marvelously entertaining search for identity, sensuality, and ultimate redemption. Phillipa Maria Donahue, shell-shocked after the loss of her unborn child, rethinks the ill considered marriage that brought her from Cincinnati to Toronto. She feels stifled as a trophy wife and reacts to her husband's controlling and demeaning behaviour by retreating into fantasy and further isolation, obsessively reading assault, rape and drug war accounts in the newspapers, and by day exploring ethnic neighbourhoods.
Feeling inadequate as a daughter to her Irish Catholic parents, she dutifully tries to save the marriage by adopting the persona of the sexy Italianate Felipitta. Rejecting her unpredictable behaviour as whorish, her husband recommends her to his psychiatrist, who offers the standard Prozac fix.
In one of many symbolic images, Dearing's heroine hears a voice issuing from shark entrails while shopping at Kensington Market, and on this advice finally leaves the marriage. Above a store called Asylum she finds a room to rent, and in the social kaleidoscope of immigrants, street people and artistic types in the Market, she feels at home at last, renaming herself Nova Philip. Her mentor in this new life is Tommy Gunn, an artist and man of the street who calls her a poseur and a tourist, pushing her beyond surface role playing to see and feel what is happening around her.
We are led in a series of flashbacks through Philippa's inner turmoils to a shocking climax, when, as the green-haired Nova, she is beaten and robbed, finally becoming a statistic herself. At the hospital, when asked her name, she seems to come full circle, back to her own self, answering the police officer's inquiry; "My name is Phillie", her childhood, and family name.
Dearing's second novel (her first was The Bull Is Not Killed), is a classic story in a modern setting, of an endearing and imaginative young woman's struggle to honour the expectations of society, family, religion and marriage, yet survive as an individual. ò
Barbara Turner Kinsella