Friday, February 22, 2008

Monster Love

I might have had second thoughts about reading Carol Topolski's first novel had I known that it was partially germinated at the David and Julia White Artists' Colony in Costa Rica. Anyway, setting aside those little prejudices, it was in fact the generally favourable mentions the book received on Simon Mayo's show that led me to pick up my signed first edition at Blackwell's.

It is the story of Brendalyn, or Brendan and Sherilyn, a couple so wrapped up in themselves that their only possible response to the 'accidental' birth of their daughter Samantha is a most monstrous form of neglect. Both fugitives from disfunctional lower-middle class backgrounds, they meet just as their new, seemingly upward-bound professional existences are taking shape and from then on go around, as one observer puts it, like two locked diaries, hand in hand.

Their disaster of parenthood and the trial that results are recounted by a sequence of voices: nosy neighbours, family members, colleagues, jurors and prison warders. The narrative picks up enough momentum through the first of these to carry the reader through, but the perspectives are of mixed interest and quality and one quickly has a sense that Topolski's structure is permitting her only to glance across the surface of some of the deeper insights such a tale might harbour. I fancy the novel could feed a decent movie screenplay, but its writer would need to look a bit deeper into its themes of transgression and family connections.

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