What kinds of positions does Various Positions have in mind? Dance positions, sex positions, moral positions? The novel's tantalizing front cover depicts a ballerina (from behind) taking a bow; on the back cover, her legs dangle in the air, as if she has just been hanged. The pages in between these two darkly comic images suggest that the various positions of ballet, sex and morality are intimately linked, and frequently inseparable.
When Georgia, a talented but shy teenaged dancer, is accepted into the prestigious and cutthroat Royal Ballet Academy, she savors its disciplined commitment to excellence. Appalled by her parents' dysfunctional relationship and her friends' obsession with boys, Georgia tries to distance herself from sexuality by diving into the world of professional ballet, a supposedly pure and passionate realm, driven by aesthetic splendour instead of desire. However, as Georgia and her charismatic instructor, Roderick, become suspiciously close, Georgia begins to blur the lines between artistry and sexuality, and she soon discovers that she is just as corruptible, just as fallible, just as human, as those around her.
It is a shame that Various Positions was released shortly after Black Swan, a far less compelling and nuanced work of art. Although they both address issues of artistic and sexual obsession, Schabas chooses subtlety over psychodrama and realism over sensationalism. She crafts a complex dialectic between gender, sexuality and art, while grounding her ideas in everyday moral dilemmas. She never settles for conventional twists or tidy resolutions, and her suggestive dialogue and suspenseful plot are only enhanced by her sharp eye for imagery and her finely-tuned ear for lyricism. For those who were intrigued by Black Swan's subject yet disappointed by its execution, who longed for characters instead of archetypes and ideas instead of platitudes, Various Positions is the book for you. It is an exhilarating, thought-provoking--and, at times, unsettling--debut by one of Canada's most promising writers.
Chris Gilmore is currently pursuing a Masters in English and Creative Writing at the University of Toronto. He writes fiction, plays and screenplays.
E. Blagrave was twenty-three years old when The Fiddlehead published all thirteen of her submissions in a single issue. Forty years later, those thirteen poems—brief and startling snapshots of the natural world in flux—appear in their original form in Blagrave’s first collection, Tilt. The collection is filled out with her work from the past few years, and her publisher, Cormorant Books, makes note of her gap in production on the book’s jacket. What’s most interesting about her publishing history is how little it matters to the continuity of the collection. Her older poems like “The Sea Gull” and “Sooke River” are threaded between newer work like “Ghosts” and “All Day The Rain”. Blagrave’s voice is undiminished despite decades when she didn’t publish any verse; it is rooted in the material and familiar tropes of Canadian literature, but also too ethereal to pin down to a formal or a traditional sense of narrative. Most poems don’t extend beyond a page but manage to tap into eternal concepts in only a few terse lines, like in “Dad” where “Profound love/beat against the tides/seemed to make the moon grow/he understood me/knew what made me/rampage through night” (37, 10-15).
Her ethereal style is paired with a microscopic eye for detail, so Blagrave doesn’t avoid the big stuff, either. In “I catalogue the books” self-awareness prevails: “I catalogue the books/I make my bed of leaves/I live in a century/of turmoil” (50,1-4). The chaos of the 20th century fuels Blagrave’s blatantly naturalistic, fanciful and spirit-like voice. While she may argue “false hope/ plagues me/ I deliver these/ few poems/ in your hands” (57, 12-16) there is no doubt readers wish she would deliver those few poems more often.
Alex J. Carey graduated from Western University with an honours degree in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. He is the runner up for Western's 2013 Alfred R. Poynt Award in Poetry. His short fiction has appeared in The Regis, and he has written music and book reviews for The Gazette and Qwiklit. Reading and writing is a good time, but all in all, he'd rather be camping.
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Dr. Aaron Schneider completed a PhD. in Canadian Literature at Western University where he currently teaches courses in public speaking, political rhetoric and Canadian Literature. He is excited about bringing together his interests in World and Canadian Literature. He is the co-founder and co-editor of The Rusty Toque and Western's online student journal Occasus.