A Plausible Atrocity by Pé Tolfo

by capreviewroom

The Oxford English Dictionary defines prostitution in a couple ways. The most common definition is “the practice … of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment”. It is this definition that acts as the surface subject for much of the short story collection Dead Girls by Nancy Lee. The second, “devotion … to an unworthy or corrupt cause … for personal gain”, is the exact opposite of what the book does for its surface subject.

Set during the early days of the “Pickton trials” in 2002, the book focuses on the profound effect they had on women throughout the greater Vancouver area. Taking into consideration that the book was published in the same year, someone could argue that Lee was quickly profiting off of a true horror in Vancouver’s recent history – that someone would not, however, be a Vancouver citizen. Lee recognizes that the cause of the atrocity was not one indescribably evil human being, but a situation that many in Vancouver still find themselves. The work shows that the disparities that lead so many women to live on the streets, and in turn walk them, are still ever present. The true reason that such an event took place is that the population sees the homeless as an infinite reality, and that “these kinds of people… just disappear.”

The stories themselves mirror this sentiment. They start abruptly, fall out accordingly, and leave us questioning just what happened to the hauntingly realistic characters. Stories like “Associated Press”, where the male characters are simply recognized as “that boy” or “this boy”, highlight whether or not the nameless that disappear really exist. “Sally, in parts” demonstrates that both men and women cause the objectification of the female body; we are forced to understand that it is through this objectification that prostitution is possible. It is perhaps only in “Rollie and Adele” that the reader glimpses the possibility of a happy ending, but it is oddly not the closing scene that persuades us. Organized in a “Before” and “After” sequence, with the happy ending playing out before the sadness begins, the story closes with disparity. It is the impression of a smile from the opening scene that hints at any sign of hope; perhaps this is the silver lining of the whole collection: Lee is targeting the hope we felt before reading the novel, saying that it is still there, however difficult it may seem to make out.

However misleading, the importance of such a work in Canadian fiction cannot be emphasized. The stories are told passionately, with incredible urgency. Her prose are a blended beauty. Lee switches between seamless and awkward sentences to emphasize the collections development and contributes both delicacy and toughness to her phrase work. The works mix first person and third person narratives, creating uncertainties in the reader; wondering to whom the deeply personal events throughout the novel are occurring, the reader rightfully puts more into the act of reading and processing the fiction.

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