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Van Herk, Aritha.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 320pp, cloth. $19.95, ISBN 0-7710-8701-2. CIP

Reviewed by Grace Shaw

Volume 14 Number 5
1986 September

Debunker of myths, smasher of stereotypes, Aritha Van Herk continues her tradition of creating a strong, independent female main character. But Judith, the pig farmer, her first creation, is mild and tame compared to Arachne of No Fixed Address. Flamboyant and irreverent, Arachne is a cold, crude, spilling tigress, attractive in her fierce wildness. Travelling prairie towns in her anlique Mercedes, she rejects the lingerie that provides her livelihood as she rejects the underpinnings of society. Attracted to the racy car and the risque woman, a colourful assortment of men pass through her mercurial life like disposable napkins. The title warns that a free spirit will emerge from the pages of the book, travelling all of life's roads, ever seeking beyond the next bend, the next town, over the next mountain.

Arachne's foreboding sense that her relationship with the close-to-perfect man who grounds her life can be only temporary fort-shadows her eventual disembodiment, her endless wanderings to everywhere and nowhere. Refusing to end where the land ends on British Columbia's west coast, she thwarts her destiny by ferrying and driving north, vague in lime and place, her path strewn with police charges, kidnapping, theft, and murder, in surrealistic fashion. Is the message that life goes nowhere?

Europeans have heralded Van Herk's work, which has been translated into many languages. Canadians may need to accustom themselves to the absurdism and nihilism underlying her fiction. There is a tendency to reject Arachne's drift through life, her sexual proctivities, the strange lives intertwining hers, but Arachne captures, captivates, and haunts. She does not let us slip away so easily. A provocative read. Van Herk will make her readers consider their lives, where they are going, and why they are going there.

Grace Shaw, Vancouver C.C., Vancouver, B.C.
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