First novel explores life’s mysteries

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March 27, 2013

Belinda’s Rings
By Corinna Chong
NeWest Press, 264 pages, $19.95

Reviewed by Yasuko Thanh

Corinna Chong’s first novel, Belinda’s Rings, introduces us to a quirky, idiosyncratic family–but aren’t they all when you scratch below the surface?

Chong, who was born in Calgary but now lives in Kelowna, BC, has written a readable novel about what lies beneath, what the eye can’t see. Ostensibly, it’s about a mother, father, and three children. But the novel is also about the power of imagination, and the fictions we maintain about ourselves, in order to keep on being the people we are.

The novel’s point of view alternates between third- and first-person. Belinda, the mother, has been carrying all her family’s responsibilities. Her daughter Grace (who prefers to be called Gray) intuits that she’ll one day “get tired of being a mother to everyone.”

“You don’t need to go to a special place to prove you’re a good person,” Belinda claims. But she nevertheless abandons her three children and escapes to England, to study crop circles near the town where she was born.

Gray and Belinda, polarized as they might seem at first glance, are united by the desire to believe the impossible. They are dying to be amazed.

Deep sea life attracts Gray. Squid are fascinating as sunken treasures in the ocean’s depths. Belinda’s attraction is to crop circles. And UFOs. She finds a pseudo-peace looking for patterns precisely in those places the skeptics claim none exist. In fact, she clings to her illusions for survival. She’s been living a lie, convincing herself of her perfect marriage and a happy family.

Chong writes: “She had the ability to imagine feelings into being; if she wanted romance, she could convince herself that Burger King on a Saturday night was unconventional and sweetly modest.  In a way, it was empowering.” And it is empowering to tell yourself what you need to hear in order to get up in the morning.  Belinda tells herself her reasons for leaving her children (in the care of an unstable father) are “noble.”  She’s on “a scientific expedition . . . focused on issues far more consequential than the trifles of domestic life.”  In a van on her way to investigate a crop circle with fellow rag-tag “researchers,” she tells no one she has children back home. What if someone assumes her children are “her world”?

The image of a child’s grave lies at the heart of Chong’s novel. The image is delicate and transient–beautiful in the way all mortal things are.  Scholars puzzle over its purpose at the center of a crumbling wooden monument. Belinda’s lost connections give her more in common with her daughter than she might like.

Love is a feat of the imagination, Chong seems to say. And, as with all games of make believe, perhaps she’s also saying its strength lies in how hard you’re willing to fight for the belief. If you love reading about mothers and daughters, this is a book for you.

Yasuko Thanh has been short-listed for this year’s BC Book Prize in fiction.

 

 

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