We are very happy to introduce Diana Brebner as our new First Novels' Editor. Diana is an Ottawa resident and graduate of the University of Ottawa, where she studied philosophy. Her poetry has appeared in such magazines as The Malahat Review, Event, Grain, The New Quarterly, and Poetry Canada. She has published three volumes of verse, including the award-winning Radiant Life Forms (1990) and The Golden Lotus (1993). She has also written reviews, literary essays, and short fiction, and performed with the trio, "Fearful Symmetry". Currently, she is working on another book of poetry and several fiction manuscripts.
What's a novel for? Not the first question I would have thought I'd ask as I accustomed myself to the idea of writing a regular column on first novels. What's a novel for? Why is it made? How is it made? What impels or propels an author to slog it out and risk so much for a written work called "novel".
Anne Stone's jacks: a gothic gospel (DC Books, 88 pages, $14.95 paper) yields no easy answers. The book, calling itself a novel, falls easily under that lazy tag, "experimental"-a label that may have had significance a few lifetimes ago, but now is often a dreary, trod-upon excuse for an inability to be articulate. Thus, crazy-mixed-up-drivel comes to be blessed by Saint Experimental and her cohort of Avant guards. Stone's book, however, is the genuine article: it is an odd and energetic experiment that has much to offer a reader prepared to encounter it with an open mind.
Ostensibly part fictional memoir, part fairy tale, part fable, part just plain weird story, jacks is not so much fiction, in the conventional sense, as a literary construction, a collage-lasagna of twisted childhood memories, tales of real and fictional "jacks" (lazyjack, Hoodoo-jack, red-jack), a revolving, continually evolving myth of the Corn Husk Bride, hoop witches, feux follets, all occurring alternately in a tenuous real world and in the heart of the mysterious swamp world of the Bosque Perdue.
It is the disjunction of narrative, the repetitive accretion of story, myth, dreams, and memories that make Stone's book both difficult and fascinating. In her method of assembling and designing her text, Stone calls to mind Diane Schoemperlen and her most recent book, Forms of Devotion, which is also an interesting construction, an intriguing work of recurring and often bizarre themes. There's more to come from Anne Stone. A second novel, Hush, will be published in 1999 by Insomniac Press. Stone is a writer whose novel will challenge and mystify readers of mainstream fiction. A brave, new book from a brave, new writer, but definitely not the opera.