Vancouver in the Shadows

by capreviewroom

By Jillian McArthur

Nancy Lee’s collection Dead Girls is a dive into the dark unspoken parts of Vancouver. Lee takes us on a tour of the city in her eight stories leading us from the beautiful Lions Gate Bridge scenery through the well-traveled downtown streets right to the dingy, dirty downtown eastside.  The eight stories deal with poverty, sex, drugs, divorce, and prostitution; which seem to connect girls from the all over the city in their search for happiness and resolution.  Once you pick up the book and start a story it is impossible to stop reading. Some of the stories are very emotional and give you vivid images of sex and abuse, which makes it hard to think of this book as a fiction. Rather than a nice pleasurable fairytale read, Lee has given a tough but more realistic look at life.

Each story is unique and individual, although they all unfold a little piece of information through either media or gossip about a serial killer named Thomas Coombs, who killed and buried prostitutes in his backyard. Lee uses this as a way to connect her stories, showing us that they are all in the same city at the same time. Some of the characters look at Coombs as psycho, some are curious about him, and others use him for gossip.

Taking a look at one of Lee’s stories, “Sally, In Parts,” we meet Sally literally broken down into parts of her body. This unique way of telling a story lets us look into Sally’s life both in the present and in the future. We see what Sally has struggled with growing up and what she is dealing with in present day. Her father is sick in the hospital where Sally goes to visit him seeking the attention he used to give her when she was a kid. Her thirst for attention leads her into a promiscuous life which only drives her father further away. As Lee describes, “Sally’s vagina is proud and demanding.”

Another story in Lee’s collection, “Young Love” looks at one night of the main character. Mary, a newly graduated single nurse helps her neighbor chaperone a high school dance marathon to help raise money for drug awareness. As Mary declares at the beginning of the story, “the irony was not lost in me,” since she pops a handful of different pills throughout the night. As the name suggests, Mary gets caught up with a very young high school boy just to add into the mix.

Dead Girls is an emotional collection that takes you away from superficial literature and forces you to think about life’s deeper meanings. It shows that one mistake can take you down a path you do not want to follow. The relationships give a strong sense of what it would actually be like to lose a loved one to the streets, or to lose a lover because of society. Take the dark, twisted tour of Vancouver, you will not regret it.

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