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Barfoot, Joan.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1985. 252pp, cloth, $23.95, ISBN 0-7715-9680-4.CIP

Reviewed by Sharon A. McLennan McCue

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

This is Joan Barfoot's third novel. In 1978 she won the Books in Canada Award for First Novels for Abra,* a work she followed with Dancing in the Dark.** Duet for Three shows that the promise of the first two books was not a matter of luck but a matter of craft. This new novel concerns the relationship between an obese, eighty-year-old woman, Aggie, and her middle-aged daughter, June, who must care for her. The two main characters are as unlike as people can be in everything from their physical appearance to their outlook on life, but they need each other, or at least, Aggie needs June. Aggie's body is betraying her. She has become incontinent and can no longer dress herself or easily shift her bulk from one place to another, but her fighting spirit survives. It remains only to fight against the humourless, upright June who finds that the burden of caring for her mother lias become too much for her. Finally June decides that she must send Aggie to a home for the aged.

Barfoot draws the reader inside these two women, to their very core. We understand them with a familiarity so close that it does breed a certain contempt. These are not particularly likable women, but they are real, and one thanks the author for that honesty. These are the kind of women that are being introduced into Canadian writing with greater frequency. They are heroines with all their warts (and the hairs growing from them) showing, neither noble housewives nor put-upon girlfriends. They are our neighbours, our co-workers, and our families, and they are not always easy to live with.

Occasionally, I found myself re-reading sentences that were vague in meaning or reference, but for the most part the narrative flows easily as it delves into the relationship between these two strong, but opposing personalities. As a generation of baby-boomers turns middle-aged, more and more of them will be faced with the problem that is central to this book. We understand how far our responsibilities as parent go, but how far must our responsibilities as children extend? Recommended.

Sharon A. McLennan McCue, James Bay Eeyou School, Chisasibi, James Bay, Que.

*Reviewed vol. VIM/1 Winter 1980 p.48.
**ReviewedvoI,XI/l January 1983 p.13.

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