Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: LOVE ENOUGH by Dionne Brand

There is something extremely comforting about picking up a book that you can connect to by default because of a shared living experience...yet still feel as though you are learning more about yourself (and your city), and the characters as a result of the literary closeness. That is what piqued my interest about this novel.

Dionne Brand's novel Love Enough is based in Toronto--a city I was born and raised in--and it tells the stories of a few intertwining characters and their individual experiences with love and life, all to the same familiar backdrop. Toronto itself is a character in this story; for any Torontonian just the mention of speeding down the Don Valley Parkway, or gazing down Dupont street brings such recognition and an immediate understanding of at least the physical journey.

The emotional journeys are complex, and rightfully so, as each character's story unfolds. It is an authentic urban Toronto tale, highlighting the city, yet highlighting the very distinct lives of the main characters. The middle-aged June, a social worker who reflects on her lovers of the past, while reconciling her differences and connection with her current partner. There's Bedri and Ghost, the young thugs who are trying to make sense of their criminal actions while frantically navigating the streets of the city. There's the young woman Lia, battling emotions about her drug addicted mother, while daydreaming about her carefree associates out exploring the world. The characters all have a connection, yet all are grappling with issues of love on various levels, and making sense of themselves in the process.

Brand's writing style is very beautiful. Needless to say, as a former Poet Laureate of Toronto (from 2009-2012), her novel is also extremely poetic. The sadness, the anger, and the joys are described with careful precision, and poignant phrasing.

And while Toronto itself is described within the journeys of the characters, the book is fragmented as it moves between the various individuals with each chapter, and tells pieces of the story, bit by bit, jumping between locations, feelings, and story lines.

June and her lover Sydney share their space, yet have distinctly different ways of viewing the world. June is a practical woman, skeptical and realistic, while Sydney is a dreamer, a believer, and a lover. And very early in the book, Brand summarizes that despite their constant arguing and is enough to keep them together. "Perhaps..."

This theme resonates throughout the entire story...that "perhaps" love is enough.

What I love about this book is the way the elements of multicultural Toronto touch all of the figures that appear, regardless of their race. Tamil, Somali, Caribbean, Latin, or European...they range in ethnicity, yet still have a grittiness of the city that influences their daily experiences.

Along with this grittiness, is a constant feeling of longing...of yearning for something, someone, or somewhere that the characters have yet to come to terms with. While they go through their routines, work, leisure, or home sense that they are all seeking more. They are seeking stability. And, of course love on some level.

"Here again, June did not understand the mysteries of intimacy..."

"Mercede's love could not hold out against her panic of never being loved enough..."

Photo via Toronto Star
I was most moved by the character Da'uud, father of Bedri, and his thoughts about returning to his home country of Somali--his internal description of the long travel process, the switching of flights, atmosphere of the various airports, and the eventual arrival. There was a feeling of hope in this passage, when he recollected the power of being "home" and how it made all other issues insignificant, once he was back in his comfort zone.

Along with the feelings of longing for love, Da'uud's passage reflected the need for acceptance and comfort in all of the characters. Taking long journeys to find a place they were familiar with, accepted as is, and comfortable navigating. Yet despite originating from another location in some cases, the story is a reminder that they are all now a part of the big and fast-paced city of Toronto, and their moods and thought processes reflect the city life.

"The Don Valley Parkway swallows sound, it crushes time..."

You don't have to be a Torontonian to appreciate the stories, but it is the mentions of the patty shops on Eglinton West, or a character's emotional ties to the Yonge subway line for example, that makes the references so culturally significant. When the young men commit a crime, while proudly yelling out declarations of can feel their tension as they navigate the westbound 401 highway towards the Allen Express. The city is a natural part of everyone's experience, despite what they are going through.

"But if you walk down a street and find a parallel version of your life, then you must become aware of the world and being aware of it means you can do something about it..."

There is no "happy ending" to Love Enough. This book is simply a moment in time in their lives, and concludes just as it begins...on the subject of love, and it's ambiguity. In a state of confusion, on the brink of revelation. While the characters do not change much as individuals by the book's end, you do get the sense that they are more aware of their positioning in the city and in their lives, as a result of the constant reflection and discussion about their individual battles. So while the challenges are evident, there is a bit of hope that things will work out if they continue to analyze and progress in this direction.

This was my first full reading of a Dionne Brand book (extremely long overdue), and I was moved by her writing, her ability to create feelings of sadness, yearning, and uncertainty in the city, and yet still perfectly line it with enough possibility of love, and of being loved, that it felt real.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's Urban Toronto Tales blog.

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