28 July 2016

The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl - Sue Goyette

I find it challenging to review poetry.  Partly because I normally read books that are character-driven or plot-driven, while poetry tends to be neither; and partly because while I can tell you if I like a certain work of poetry or not, I don't know enough about it to tell you why.

That being said, this is a collection of poems that does include both characters and plot, while employing poetic techniques such as metaphor and word-play and imagery.  (The blurb on the back of the book calls this, "a mythopoetic, sideways use of image and language.")

The book is based on the 2006 death of Rebecca Riley and the court case that followed.  She was a 4-year old girl who died of an overdose of drugs prescribed to treat bipolar disorder and ADHD.  Yes, a 4-year old was diagnosed with bipolar disorder based on the reports of her mother.  Her psychiatrist was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying at the trials of Rebecca's parents, and Rebecca's mother was found guilty of second-degree murder while her father was found guilty of first-degree murder.

By giving the trial of Rebecca's mother a poetic treatment rather than writing it as straight-forward prose, I found that the story became more poignant.  None of the characters are named - they are the doctor, the girl, the mother - that is until the mother is found guilty and the guilty verdict strips her of her title of "the mother" and she becomes simply Carla.

I found the personification of "poverty" to be heartbreaking.  When the doctor is telling the court about how the girl used to assume the identity of different things - from a caterpillar to a witch to a bear, the reader is told that,
"Poverty could have told the courtroom the girl
had been a butterfly until it had plucked off her wings"
And then when the lawyer and the doctor talk about a special relationship that the girl had with her bear (the bear replaced the mother in giving love),
"two of the jurors had to leave the courtroom to catch
their breath, which poverty had feasted on without being noticed."

This book is short, it is heartbreaking, it is beautifully written, and I am glad to have read it.

(As an aside, last winter I was talking with one of my professors about books that are visually and tactilely appealing, and she asked if I was familiar with Gaspereau Press as they are known for producing beautiful books.  So I wasn't surprised to discover that this book is published by Gaspereau.  The cover and the pages of this book are lovely to look at and even more lovely to touch and hold and turn.)

(Book 3 of 13 in the Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set)

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