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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: Trench Patterns

Much, but not enough
by Nanette Soucy

You've gotta keep your humour, if you're going to keep your wits. When IEDs are exploding all around and you're at the antipodes of home, with the lives of others in your hands, being able to make a crack gets you through the day, and, hopefully, back home, alive. 

Captain Jacqueline, a wounded veteran in Alyson Grant's Trench Patterns, is an expert at the healing powers of sardonicism. We meet Patricia Summersett's healing officer shortly upon her return from Afghanistan, in hospital, where she is slowly learning to walk and talk again after the loss of her leg and her men. Jaqueline is at once tough and supremely vulnerable, a situation that both her mother and her visitations take ruthless advantage of. Her vulnerability is poked at by her psychiatrist, who asks corny questions as though he received his degree from the Wikipedia School of Psychology. What her psychiatrist lacks in skill, Summersett more than makes up for in performance. 

Trench Patterns is compact and thorough in its exploration of the situation it contains. We get to contemplate questions about the justice of wars, sexism within the ranks, the influence of family history on one's own story. We touch upon the seemingly endless Franco/Anglo tensions in Montreal. We explore a bit about the stigma of mental illness, of being an educated, childless, unmarried woman and the challenge of working in a male dominated field. No stone is left unturned save one: although the striking image of an Afghani woman in a Burqa is repeated, in this story, she is but an image. We hear a bit about her dreams, but in the end, her potential as foil to Jacqueline's comparatively masculine and liberated experience is unexplored. Islam, Quebec's fraught relationship with its followers, and the perceived threat this veiled woman is to our way of life, our culture and our identity is never touched,  even as we otherwise address Québécois' problem with otherness in terms of language. 

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