CM February 9, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 17

image Man-S-Laughter.

Ellen Frith.
Lantzville, B.C.: Oolichan Books, 1995. 265pp, paper, $l4.95.
ISBN 0-88982-147-X.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Pat Bolger.


Raymonde stood in the middle of the living room stark naked and bright pink from her hot bath. Stretched out towards William. her pregnant belly flaunted its protruding navel and its stripe of darkened skin like a zipper from her breast bone to her pubic hair. William couldn't fail to notice that that hair had grown back darker, lusher and more dangerous-looking than ever. . . . Did Raymonde have no shame, he thought, shuddering, Her old art students would have jumped up and applauded and cried, "Magnificent!" William, however, could only recoil in horror. He emitted a little shriek of horror similar to the one he gave when his shower went cold, and as Raymonde spun around in a jiggling little dance, crying, "Do you like it?" he fainted. On his way out the window, the Canadian flag floated free and was later found by three small boys on a street several blocks away. They took it home to their father, a staunch Quebec nationalist who cut it up and, bit by bit, burned it in an ashtray.

Frith makes good use of this sort of deadpan delivery throughout Man-S-Laughter, undercutting dramatic events with mundane details like the ardent nationalist burning the late William's flag in an ashtray. This matter-of-fact tone helps the reader to accept for the moment the strong element of unreality that characterises both the events and the characters in the novel.

So characters like the first of Raymonde's doomed husbands acquire a degree of believability, although the reader still wonders why anyone would marry Morris Harris, alias Raspberry Mahogany, who made a habit of teetering on the edge of subway platforms to frighten bystanders -- until the shocking accident. On the other hand, the dispassionate tone also makes even the central characters so flat that it is difficult to care much what happens to Raymonde, her husbands, children, and friends.

Frith maintains the suspense well, only very gradually revealing that the apparently innocent and childlike Raymonde has murdered all of her husbands. The heavy use of flashbacks, rarely in chronological order, introduces a chaotic element likely to challenge the patience of many readers.

The cover image, which effectively suggests the novel's emphasis on the grotesque, is more likely to repel than attract adolescents.

Not recommended.

Pat Bolger is a retired Teacher/Librarian living in Renfrew, Ontario.

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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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