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Monoceros ~ Reviewed by Brenda Brooks

Monoceros by Suzette MayrMonoceros by Suzette Mayr
Coach House Books, 2011
220 pages

Reviewed by Brenda Brooks

Once upon a time, not so terribly long ago, in the kingdom of Calgary, there lived a virginal young maiden named Faraday who required the healing power of unicorns so desperately that she ordered a whole shipment from the Black Forest in Germany. Even though she received an official receipt and money-back guarantee, no one believed the creatures would ever arrive — least of all her parents, whose credit card she used for the online purchase. But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is easy to do when speaking of a book that begins with an ending and ends with a beginning.

Monoceros opens with the death of a teen-aged boy named Patrick Furey who has recently hanged himself in his bedroom. His mother, Gretta, filled with remorse that “crap” may have been the last word she said to him, cuts him down with a dull kitchen knife. We learn that Furey has endured high school bullying of the sort reserved for those who are gay, and that his boyfriend, Ginger, (who has a girlfriend as well) has dumped him, clearly as a result of guilt and confusion of his own.

So Patrick Furey is dead to begin with, and like the suicide figure at the center of a story like The Big Chill, and certainly another tragic dead boy, James Joyce’s Michael Furey, in his superb short story The Dead, it is the profound absence of Monoceros’ main character that drives and defines the story. We learn much about a variety of others who either knew Furey well, or simply brushed past him with little apparent consequence in the years leading up to his demise. And what a bunch of messed-up others these characters are. Any self-respecting unicorn fully committed to virginal values wouldn’t touch any of them with a ten foot, well … horn.

Meet Walter, the guidance counsellor (who refers to himself as “a fat, black man in his fifties”) who does little more than munch sesame snaps when Furey bares his tortured soul; and Max, the school principal who insists that his institution isn’t responsible for any bullying unfolding outside of official school boundaries. Only later do we come to see that this very regimented pair may well be the oddest couple in the story, along with Faraday’s own parents who, by way of restoring intimacy to their relationship, engage in constant sexual activity on the advice of their therapist.

Meet also the dazed and confused English teacher Mrs. Mochinski, who drinks herself into a stupor before practicing yoga and collapsing into the corpse pose no later than 9 p.m. We come to know Petra, Ginger’s girlfriend, who treated Patrick Furey with cruel jealousy in the days leading up to his death.

When we meet Faraday’s Uncle Suzie (“a seven-foot, black Wonder Woman”) we soon discover that the least “normal” and traditionally integrated figure may also be the most wholesome. Uncle S. is known by the alias Crepe Suzette when performing at the Galaxie Drag Bar, but Clem when serving up sirloin at the Emperor’s Steak House. In addition, she/he is often confused for Colonel Shakira, the main character in a popular TV series called Sector Six, watched religiously by most characters in the book, especially Max, the school principal. Later, Max’s repressed world will collide with Suzette’s in ways as entertaining as they are unexpected.

For a book where the central fact is a suicide, there is much to amuse in Monoceros. But of course this is because it is really about life, with all its madness, mess and mayhem. Black, white, gay straight — we’re in for it regardless. Told in a fast-paced, rollicking, almost Cage Aux Folles manner, there are also moments of pure tenderness and regret, notably conveyed in the equally well-drawn characters of Gretta, Furey’s mother, and Ginger, the scarred ghost of a boy left behind by his lover’s desperate act. In the end, each one of Mayr’s characters must discover what Patrick Furey’s death means to them, and whether or not they have the courage to be changed by these revelations.

As for whether or not Faraday’s mail-order unicorns ever reach Calgary: It is perhaps important to note the difference between the popular image of the fabled white charger, his head nestled in the lap of a virgin, and the Monoceros of the title. This is an “impure” genetic melange of a creature, reputed to possess the head of a stag, feet of an elephant, tail of a boar and the body of a horse. The successful delivery of a herd of beasts such as these might turn out to be very wild indeed.

Excerpt from the book:

… real unicorns do not wear fake eyelashes or have muscles that allow them to contort their muzzles into a smile. A real unicorn, like one of the ones she knows are coming, could nod its alicorn and heal the nonsense of her parents’ marriage, give her brother George M. a decent personality, give her brother Jonas a personality period, give Uncle Suzie a boyfriend who knows how to clean up after himself, perhaps even resurrect Patrick Furey from the dead. The alicorn, all-powerful.

~

Brenda Brooks is the author of Gotta Find Me An Angel, and two collections of poetry.

Read more about Monoceros

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Posted by Pearl on Jun 27 2011. Filed under Book Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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