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Mitchell, W.O.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1984. 277pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-7715-9817-3. CIP

Reviewed by Mary Fallis

Volume 13 Number 1
1985 January

Here is a new novel by W.O. Mitchell. Many things are right about this book from the outset. In the hand, it is a beautiful volume with an attractive print face; the designer, Don Fernley, is recognized in the credits, the claims of the blurb, especially those that point to the "rich ingredients of a joyful, life-enhancing book," are accurate.

It is adult reading. The early part of the story is full of raunchy humour, stemming from the natural protest by the central character, Colin Dobbs, against "this body he was trapped in," as he recovers from mauling by a bear. His stream of consciousness is active, casting up memories of his daughter Annie, of his divorced wife Sarah, of his colleagues at the university where he teaches creative writing, and of the bear. In the end, we have a full and entertaining account of his life.

Underlying the events of the story, there is a good deal of yarn-telling going on. There is something about the bear incident that has to be deciphered. Dobbs's ultimate view of it involves Archie Nicotine, his Indian guide; his university colleagues, including a president with a phony degree; the elderly taxidermist where the bear skin has been treated; and a lawyer, two court judges and a hilarious court room appearance. Most of all, the resolution involves the prickly father-daughter relationship between Colin and Annie, a person he cannot fool and who, bit by bit, brings him to acknowledge his delusions.

Skilful word play adds to the fun: there is a nice bit on names for "Freshman English," all the way from "Bone-head English" to "Suppository Writing." The author mocks trendy ideas and phrases cleverly, and there is a marvellous piece of Joycean writing when Dobbs gets "sherry drunk" at a faculty party. Archie Nicotine contributes his share of double entendres referring to the judge as "Your War Ship," speaking for "us red originals," and telling Dobbs that his experience d be too primitive for you to understand." Highly recommended for adult reading.

Mary Fallis, Prince George, B.C.
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