FOOL'S BELLS By Lynnette D'anna Insomniac Press, 150 pages, $19.99
Survivor narratives are difficult reading, and fool's bells is no exception. The clarity and elasticity of Lynnette D'anna's writing is heroic given the nature of her subject matter: incest and sexual violence. The Winnipeg author's elegant writing crosses deftly back and forth over the terrain of fiction, poetry and creative documentary. Her poetic sensibility infuses this final book in her trilogy -- following sing me no more (1992) and RagTimeBone (1993) -- with a fragile beauty.
The narrative is loosely structured on the elements of the Tarot: earth, air, fire and water. The Tarot, along with faith and magic, is common currency in female adolescent lives. It often seems that nothing short of the supernatural will allow girls to overcome their powerlessness and attain their desires. Here, it takes on the added poignancy of being the last weapon, although surely futile, against the wanton destruction of the soul of the child.
The characters are never whole; they split apart, they suffer from multiple personality disorders or they commit suicide, annihilating themselves through the only autonomous gesture they can make. Imp, Baby, Sra, Creature, Drummer and Fool: identity is de/formed out of necessity if they are to survive in the face of the most heinous brutality. The book is peopled with malevolent bodies and untrustworthy sprites, all living on the cusp of terrible danger and deception. We follow Sra on her journey to concretize her multiple identities and liberate her soul from a prison of denial, lies and abuse.
D'anna's writing plumbs the artesian well of the survivor's psyche. The aesthetic pleasure of reading such lyrical work is very much in conflict with its terrible subject. It brings up a difficult dichotomy of emotions as only powerful writing can. Throughout, D'anna imparts a sense of dread and futility that is so discomfiting that it becomes almost impossible at times to continue. Fortunately, she also provides rays of hope that appear often enough, and malleable enough, to encourage us even in the most desperate situations.
Fool's bells is free-flowing and unpredictable, a very difficult journey that is courageously written and sometimes punishing to read. It has a relentless honesty that is deeply disturbing. It exposes the perpetrators for the filth they are and displays the blood of the little girls that is left behind at the scene. This is a brave book, and D'anna is a brave writer. She is to be deeply commended for such a moving account of the betrayal of innocence. She risks everything as a writer and a survivor, and in doing so, she wins, and we win.
This novel is a serious indictment of how power relations, as they currently exist in our society, allow the victimization of female children. It has been only a decade since the publication of Don't: A Woman's Word, Elly Danica's memoir of childhood sexual abuse in Saskatchewan, and since that seminal moment incest narratives have proliferated to the point where they can now be looked at as a genre. The appalling reality of incest should enrage every one of us. It is no longer a secret; it can no longer be said that we didn't know. Patricia Seaman was a participant in the workshop in which Elly Danica presented the manuscript Don't: A Woman's Word for the first time.