(NeWest, 187 pages, $13.95 paper), by Robert Budde, had its genesis as a creative writing dissertation at the University of Calgary, and there is a forced quality to the whole book, as if it had been cobbled together with great effort and under some duress. Its short chapters-many only a page long-suggest the self-consciousness of writing exercises.
Misshapen is about the freaks in a turn-of-the-century circus. The main character is slip [sic], who was raised by them after they discovered her in the folds of the Big Top. She lacks the ability to remember, and so as an adult returns to the Ghost Lady, who was one of her predominant caregivers. It is the Ghost Lady who tells slip's story and, in the process, the story of the circus sideshow as well.
There are, occasionally, moments of true poetry throughout all this, but unfortunately, not enough to compensate for all the ones that sound contrived.