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Fawcett, Brian.

Vancouver, Talonbooks, c1985. 206pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 0-88922-227-4. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Patrick Dunn

Volume 15 Number 1
1987 January

The Secret Journal of Alexander Mackenzie is Brian Fawcett's third (My Career With the Leafs and Other Stories* Capital Tales**) and perhaps most imaginative collection of short stories. The seventeen works span almost two hundred years of Canada's history, from Mackenzie's 1793 Pacific voyage to the plight of today's unemployed, ("My Friends Are Gone"). Utilizing a central motif, the theme of exploration-cum-exploitation, Fawcett attempts to make clear what has happened to the land and the people who came to inhabit it. While he remains genuinely concerned about the despoiled ecology, (in "Greenie," the Forest Service crew responsible for estimating the quantity and quality of timber in a dam basin are instructed to falsify their survey information in order to prove that the area to be flooded is not worth logging) Fawcett's overriding interest here centres on what he considers to be today's soul-destroying culture and the economic colonialism that underpins it.

Not surprisingly, the title story, (the longest, as well) forecasts the corporate mind-set that will characterize the nation's socioeconomic development. Two weeks into his journey, Mackenzie writes, "Should these wilds be one day civilized it will be by men of will and opportunity to whom all grace and soft arts will be nothing," and one of his last entries reads, "There is nothing to contemplate in this wilderness, and much to be gained, much to be transformed by ambition and force." Just such a transformation is described in "The Enemy Within," a story that details in painfully ironic, bitterly satiric fashion the strategy employed by two multinationals bent on taking over a local community's lumber and food supply sector.

Furthermore, this fictionalized account of the explorer's journal introduces the cultural myth (the Woman in the Garden) which is continually betrayed and debased. For example, the finely built stone cottage Mackenzie and his men stumble across after their disastrous accident on the "Bad River" becomes, in turn, a weathered, decaying mansion. ("The Deer Park"), and then a concrete and plastic fortress, ("The Castle"). In addition, Fawcett's marvellous handling of image, (the deer, the mist, the island), and his remarkable reworking of symbol, (the woman in each dwelling is first seer, then crone, and finally, bitch), has an extremely powerful cumulative effect on the reader; the dislocation experienced by each narrator becomes almost palpable. And this disorientation is precisely what the author wishes to achieve. Once disconcerted, his readers may well be roused to awareness—critical awareness of the state of their society and its culture.

Another of Fawcett's ongoing concerns involves the corrosive violence that seems to permeate all levels of society. Whether it is the extremely wealthy California businessman in "Hand Grenade Gary" who is charged with manslaughter after he kills two men, ("What's a few Indians .worth, anyhow?"), or unemployed Leon in "Uniforms" who genuinely enjoyed "bashing guys who wore business suits," the result is always the same: violence engenders yet more violence and madness and death ensue.

Not all the stories are so bleak, so pessimistic, however. A number, in fact, are downright hilarious. Witness the fate of Big Ed in "Hanging In" when he tries to ride a runaway wounded moose, or the plight of the discombobulated government bureaucrats in "Weasels" who descend, en masse, upon a northern town "to put a stop to the mistreatment of poor fur-bearing animals," having mindlessly misinterpreted the local expression for drinking beer: "Let's go bite the heads off some weasels!" Fawcett is at his satiric best when he savages these universally recognizable, maddeningly officious civil servants.

All in all, an exciting collection of prose from an author whose vision seems to become more mature, more refined with each publication. While Fawcett's is not an optimistic view, it is a perspective we badly need to entertain. As a society, we would do well to heed this latter-day Cassandra. Highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.

Patrick Dunn, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

*Reviewed vol. XI/5 September 1983 p. 200.
**Reviewed vol. XIII/4 July 1985 p.162.

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