The Day Marlene Dietrich Died.
The Chinese calligraphy instructor growled at the thinness of her own strokes. Wen Lo, she sensed, was not a happy man. Teaching these warm-coloured people fragments of his culture was perhaps not his idea of a life, and she wondered what he might have previously been. And did he look forward to a reincarnation in which he would be a mountaineer, a cowboy, a true artist? That philosophy gave a person immense scope, but she was not foolish enough to think she would have a choice in the matter. Like much else in life it was most likely a lottery. Worse still, it might be that one became in the next life what one deserved according to one's behaviour in this.
The teacher shooed them out of the room early. He looked tired and coughed frequently. Perhaps he hated them all for trying to attach themselves to a civilization going back five thousand years of which they understood nothing but what they could see with their misshapen eyes.
She stopped in the Hunan Garden for green tea and almond cookies.
And there, peering into the window, was Joe.
Don't run away, was a precept she had been taught early on by a father who had faced down a moose bare-handed, so he said. And who had caught many a deer in his headlights and not allowed their pleading eyes to stop him in his tracks.
"Joe," she said.
"Come back to me," he pleaded fish-like through the glass with the streetcar rattling along Dundas Street behind him.
"Drop dead," she replied.
This delightful collection of twenty stories is tied together with the somewhat loose connection of how all of the characters feel about the death of Marlene Dietrich. Each story stands on its own but the thread of connection is an interesting plus for the reader.
The characters are sympathetic and realistic. They are human - with both frailties and redeeming qualities - and represent a wide range of people. The stories visit and re-visit the lives of these characters at different times and in various situations.
In Bride of the Sea, Andrea loses an earring, thinking it has been washed out to sea. She doesn't see it as the valuable gift that her husband, Daryl, has given her to represent their love. The lost earring is eventually found and the couple come to a deeper understanding of one another. And still, the story closes with the sentence: "He knew that for all his life he would never lose the image of her smile at that moment and would spend a lifetime trying to fathom the mystery of it."
Wyatt's understated style makes emotional moments powerful for the reader. She is an acclaimed radio dramatist who has written over one hundred plays for the BBC and CBC. She has also written stage plays and television features. Marlene Dietrich is Wyatt's fourth novel and reveals her to be a talent in this medium as well.
The format of the book is attractive and easy to read. The cover design and the title are extremely effective, highlighting the theme of this collection, the spirit. Though Marlene Dietrich is dead, her spirit lives on through the memories, real or imagined, of these characters.
Deborah Mervold is a teacher librarian in a grade 6 to 12 school, and a Grade 12 English teacher at Shellbrook Composite High School.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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