Slander

October 16, 2006

Liz Finnegan manoeuvrs her 24-speed bike with speed and agility on the pathways and streets in and around Seattle. Wearing her shorts and carrying her backpack with a neat little cellphone belt around her waist, she may not look the part of a successful young lawyer, a fierce advocate for women’s rights, freedom of choice . . . By the end of the novel even I wanted her to cut back on the booze and coffee, to eat more and exercise less. She set the pace for this thriller filled with “surprising twists and turns” (Quill &).


Patsy Granfield Mermorial Trail


This is how Liz described one of her favourite
Seattle parks. It sounds like Patsy Granfield Memorial Trail, Cobble Hill. See the larger image of this Cowichan Valley Park in my Flickr album.
“A few blocks farther north brings me to one of my favourite green retreats, Ravenna Park: fifty acres of wilderness and paths, a creek bisecting a deep ravine – second-growth rain forest, firs and cedars, ferns and salal and Oregon grape (Deverell 1999: 63).”

I heard from another hiker that a chunk of land leading to Manley Creek park in Cobble Hill was named after Patsy Granfield, a spunky rifle-toter who protected her large acreage from hikers. Patsy loved deer more than people. Her land had a hydro right-of-way so she finally lost a wedge to the municipality. Now people walking their dogs along this trail first encounter a large panel bearing her name. She lost her battle but it seems like a nice gesture on the part of the CVRD. She sounds like she stepped out of one of Deverell’s novels.

Having just moved to Vancouver Island from the Gatineau area I am in the mode for gently and gradually learning about our new Island home: the environment, history, geology, current issues, weather, people, the names of trees … Every now and again I look up from one of Deverell’s well-researched fictional novels, take a sip of my morning coffee (Liz Finnegan takes her coffee seriously) and gaze around my new relatively empty home. The fireplace is burning and cranking out heat. Today’s Pictorial is open beside me. It is full of stories and people that could have inspired Deverell who moved to Pender Island years ago. I look out at Mount Tzuhalem still partially cloaked in fog. Saltspring Island is just as visible. Thanks to dozens of road trips and hikes I now know that from summit to summit on the Cascade coastal mountains we can see the Gulf Islands and on a clear day the skyscrapers of Vancouver. Google earth, ACME mapping and Flickr provide more layers of visualizing where I am.

I read Deverell’s novel April First and found his descriptions of the Gulf Islands and vicinity (my new home) to be exactly what I was looking for. He describes the natural settings as skillfully as the inhabited areas. He provides precise names for flora and feelings. He writes believable descriptions of subtle changes in moods of people and weather. He takes time to shed light on inner conversations of his humorously human, engaging, believable characters without getting us lost in their inner battles. He writes of human consciousness as a natural part of everyday life not a profoundly disturbing part of a few unsettled thinkers. His characters’ ‘raw feels’ or ‘qualia’ reveal the more complex layered thinking that may not always be completely conscious.

In Deverell’s novel entitled Slander (1999) the reader becomes aware of the inner conflicts of the young brilliant, spunky, ambitious, career-oriented, socially concerned lawyer who willfully girds herself to face her fears by choosing which emotions to display in the same way she chooses her clothing. We learn that Liz has an unshakable, persistent sense of loss, of anomie. She is partly aware of some Freudian hidden memories, something she has forgotten — while outwardly she seems to be stubbornly arrogant, impulsive and heedless. She gets lost at times while gazing at her roommate’s evocative paintings. They seem to enter her subconscious and her dreams chaotically combine the themes of his paintings with snatches from her own past, present and perhaps even the future. Throughout the novel there is a subnarrative of a character who doesn’t seem present until the conclusion. This character’s poetic, lofty language seems to be a manipulative tool for self-deception that has convinced its solitary author. While his characters are well-developed and thoughtful, Deverell’s well-crafted plots are speedy with sudden unexpected turns.

Deverell’s two novels seemed almost made for television but not any kind of television. I found myself casting my favourite actors in the roles of his characters in April First and Slander. I avoided freezing them into the roles because I wanted to let Deverell surprise me with an aspect of the character I could not anticipate. Deverell writes for his time with a heightened awareness of shifts in technology and media. He created the television series Street Legal which for me was almost a new genre. He seemed to situate his complex characters and believable plots within a liminal space that invited viewers to think for themselves about the multi-faceted nature of complex legal and ethical issues in the slow everyday world. His characters’ flaws and strengths were gradually revealed as their personal histories were uncovered. In sharp contrast, the well-known courtroom drama series, Law and Order presents a clear black and white distinction between what is lawful and unlawful, what constitutes order and judicial and moral chaos in front page crime issues. Characters clearly are identified with black and white hats.
Deverell manages to deal with some contentious contemporary debates that pit family members and friends against one another. Politics, feminism, abortion, homosexual marriage, the abuse of power in political office, in the judiciary, the persistence of Old Boys’ Club in the world of lawyers … the list is quite long. But he manages somehow to insert these issues through three-dimensional characters that it is often hard to completely dislike. Is it a stretch to compare this with Dostoevsky (1821-81) who was particularly gifted at exploring the consciousness of his characters revealing their contradictory nature? They were not one-dimensional, black and white. The reader ended up feeling some tolerance and even empathy towards them. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Bakhtin was intrigued with Dostoevsky’s dialogues as he investigated concepts such as Self and the Other-I.

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