cover image The Beguiling

The Beguiling

Zsuzsi Gartner. Penguin Books Canada, $14.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7352-3937-1

Rich prose and a loving embrace of the crazy coincidences of life keep Gartner’s debut novel afloat (after the collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives). The magpie’s nest of a plot unfolds as a series of stand-alone episodes after heroine Lucy becomes a “confession magnet,” as strangers burden her with their transgressions. Not exactly itinerant, Lucy relocates to wherever work or the twists of her personal life take her; her infant daughter, Pippa, meanwhile, is left mostly with her ex, Julian. The death of Lucy’s beloved cousin Zoltan, her first confessee, becomes a touchstone in her life. Gartner packs the narrative with cultural references high and low, which both exhilarate and add texture and context. Russian poet Anna Akhmatova is Lucy’s idol, and the title comes from Zoltan’s obsession with the Clint Eastwood film of the same name. Subsequent episodes involve a fierce homeless woman named Susanna Jr.; an intense Finn named Arvo Pekka, who works at an all-night Kinko’s that Lucy patronizes; star-crossed German lovers Annette and Dieter; and more. The stories are discursive, but Lucy threads them back into previous moments of her life, and they build to a powerful revelation. It’s excessive, but it’s also ebullient and delightful. (Aug.)