Young adults attain untidy denouement

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March 7, 2013

Whitetail Shooting Gallery
by Annette Lapointe
Anvil Press, 220 pages, $20.00

Reviewed by Emily McGiffin

Whitetail Shooting Gallery, Giller-prize nominee Annette Lapointe’s second novel, opens with a shotgun blast that reverberates throughout the book. It launches cousins Jason and Jenn, positioned at either end of the blast, into the middle of adolescence and into a sexual turbulence that will follow them into adulthood.

Set in Bear Hills, a small town on the peri-urban fringes of Saskatoon, the novel places a contemporary coming of age story against a rural landscape in transition. Its characters struggle with the tension created by the expectations and stereotypes of rural life while grappling with tumultuous task of finding oneself in the contemporary world.

The story follows the entwined lives of three central characters: Jason, Jenn and Donna, Jenn’s close friend and, eventually, lover to both cousins. Around them, the cast of secondary characters includes Jenn’s parents, Jason’s father Garry, and Sarah, his semi-estranged mother who left the family and moved to Saskatoon following a car accident brought on by a whitetail deer.

As the novel progresses, Jason spends greater amounts of time with Gordon, a mysterious sculptor from the west coast whose activities become increasing sinister as new truths emerge. As their friendship grows, Gordon evolves into a caricature of Jason: both men are marginalized, queer, confused about the shooting incident and, in their own ways and for their own reasons, fascinated by Jenn and Donna.

Far from a bucolic story of prairie romance, the novel tells the story of outsiders excluded from mainstream small-town prairie life by their physical characteristics (throughout their high school years, Jenn, Donna and their friends are “the fat girls”) and their sexual identities. While the family (with the exception of Sarah) lives in neighbouring houses on the family farm and remains united through Jenn’s high school years, the world of the novel unravels as it becomes clear that Jennifer and Jason—both irreparably damaged by the pivotal event in the book—are mired in misunderstanding of the event that prevents resolution and forgiveness. Despite the strong and supportive family that surrounds them, both drift into adult lives marked by an inability to establish real intimacy, which they seek instead in small animals and transient lovers.

An up-front, no-nonsense look at young adults developing their identities in small-town Saskatoon in the 80s, Whitetail Shooting Gallery develops a realistic set of scarred characters, explores their complexities and, finally, arrives at a complex, untidy denouement.

 

Emily McGiffin’s non-fiction and award-winning poetry has been widely published. Her first book of poems, Between Dusk and Night, was published by Brick Books in 2012.

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