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Leon Rooke.

Downsview (ON), ECW Press, c1982.
148pp, paper, $8.95.
ISBN 0-92080248-6.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Boh Kinczyk.

Volume 11 Number 3.
1983 May.

In "Gin and Tonic," the last of the eight stories in Birth Control King, Rebecca, inspired by a swarm of mating gnats and a youngster's oboe music, dreams of the Garden of Eden:

         Several hundred men, no larger than bees,
         were erecting a barbed-wire fence around the
         place. . .Men with rifles were up sniping
         from their towers. Plunk, plunk, plunk!
         Bullets stirred up soft puffs of dust in the
         arid soil....
         "Aim over their heads," a voice said.
         "We don't want to harm anyone."
         Rebecca's heart caught. She recognized that
         "Well, one or two," God said, "as an example."
         Two or three hundred of the small bee people
         began to fall. They rolled down into the grass,
         kicked and lay still, or they screamed and went
         limp, snagged on the wire.
         Plunk, plunk, plunk!

But Rebecca, her lovely hand cut, her blue raincoat torn, her friend Estelle gone away, does not despair. She goes home, has a quiet smoke, makes herself a gin and tonic, and thinks about tomorrow.

Rebecca, like many of the other characters in this wonderful volume, is a dreamer. And because she is a dreamer she is not a quitter. She follows Adlai's advice to Hedgepolt in the title story: "Dream the dreams. . .Dare to be God!"

Although the world is rather small and squalid and cruel, many of the characters find the courage to dream and dare. Adlai in the title story finds the courage to repudiate his mam's impossible expectation that he take up the Birth Control King's mission to stop the irrepressible black hordes from Africa. Adlai's final vision frees him:

         What I was seeing was deep water and over the
         mammoth face of that water legion upon legion
         of matchstick canoes and in those canoes a
         thousand black faces and those faces whooping
         delight at me the same as I was whooping it back
         to them. And nothing poor mam could do about it.

Measure Adlai's vision against Rebecca's, and it becomes obvious that Rooke's stories are not simply individual stories collected in a volume. They are related in theme and mood, in image and symbol, in fantasy and horror. The heroes are healers, the villains are sadists.

If you liked Death Suite,** Fat Woman* or Last One Home Sleeps in the Yellow Bed, you will love The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta. Readers unfamiliar with Rooke should be warned, though: ask what it all means and Rooke might just reach out from a story and give your leg one last pull.

Be fruitfly and multiply.

*Reviewed vol. X/4 November 1982 p.234.
**Reviewed vol. X/2 1982 p.89.

Boh Kinczyk, Central Elgin BC, St. Thomas, ON.
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