Monday, December 19, 2011

Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler

Who is Sarah Canary?

At first I was delighted by the lively and vivid prose and quirky characters bouncing off each other but at around the third chapter I realized each chapter was the same – every character is projecting their idea of untrammeled womanhood upon the blank slate of the ever moving madwoman Sarah Canary. Ok. Got it. The plot eventually geared up, ending with a big set piece at the San Francisco Zoo but I felt the story never quite came to a conclusion. Therefore I was left with the feeling that I didn’t get it. Especially not the prettily written end.

This is a historical novel about a group of society's outcasts running around the muddy Northwest. We never see inside of the head of the mute (mentally deficient?) Sarah Canary, but our two main narrative consciousness are Chin, the pigtailed immigrant, and BJ the madman recently escaped from the asylum. They are both in love with or in some sort of thrall to Sarah Canary. Later they are joined by proto feminist Miss Dixon. All of them will have their lives turned upside down by their pursuit of Sarah Canary. To protect her? To possess her?

Every chapter opens with an Emily Dickinson poem and also a rundown of current events happening at that time with an ironic emphasis on the subjugation of women.

I have mixed feelings about this one. The prose was lively and the characters were wonderful and I learned a lot about the historical period. Though I was disappointed at the end, I am definitely going to read more of Karen Joy Fowler.

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