Review: Be Good, by Stacey May Fowles

>>Published: November 2007

>>Finally got around to it: February 2011

Despite this generosity, I know she toys with me daily, her laughter piercing and the inaccessibility of her body unforgiving. She will disappear for days and never tell me where she has gone, and I am forced to make love to her with such severity in the hope that my name will be burned inside her so the others will read the ownership like Braille. I find marks on her body, bruises and bites, and I play back the moments we have spent together and I know that another man has planted them there. I count them like inventory and when there are too many I will count them again to be sure, trace them with my fingertips and yet say nothing, constantly afraid that a single word will cause her to walk out the door a final time.

***

Be Good, the bracing 2007 debut from Stacey May Fowles, is a novel internally divided.

And I mean that as the highest praise possible.

Following a small group of twenty-somethings (and one forty-something) as they drink and smoke and fuck and cut and let down and traumatize one another from one end of Canada to the other, Be Good is a novel of experiences—some more pleasant than others, all of them painted with brutal, sometimes-inebriated honesty.

Centred around Hannah and Morgan and their is-there-or-isn’t-there-I-wish-I-knew-what-to-think relationship, Be Good is cut into small snapshot chapters, presented in a non-linear fashion that reads less like a novel and more like a near-abstracted stream of memories—with all sides given voice. What’s even more interesting is the presence of an authorial diction to the narration, as if the memories of these broken-and-pieced-back-together-again individuals are all being filtered through the same lens, coalescing as one unseen narrator’s shared, abusive, neglectful, love-craving set of experiences.

The outcome of this is a work of multiple perspectives that reads as one person’s inability to accept what has happened, refusing to settle on a single, dogmatic perspective of the events at hand. This draws conflicting—but necessary—conclusions to the intentions of the presented voice: to offer an even hand to the relationships presented, showing all sides of how something can fall apart through so much unspoken vitriol; or to further illustrate the confusion and doubt one person can feel about their role—and the role of all others—in the total destruction of a relationship or series of relationships.

Be Good is a sometimes painful, always rewarding read. Fowles repeatedly intoxicates readers with imagery that straddles the tightrope between beautiful and horrific:

It was all so liberating until I held the very human consequences of it inside me like a weight that made me immobile, a weight I decided to name Archangel Gabriel until I felt it cramp and bleed out of me after I drowned it in vodka and disregard.

Abuse through poetic license. Gorgeous and not, all at once.

Which describes Be Good at its core: a beautiful, tightly written work that will cut you with every pass of the merry-go-round of knives and love fucked over.

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