Author: Mara-McKay, Nico
Date published: January 1, 2012
Afflictions & Departures Madeline Sonik, 182 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $20
Part memoir, part history lesson, this collection of 17 narrative essays from the Victoria-based writer Madeline Sonik charts the course of her life from conception on board the Queen Mary up to adulthood in North Devon, England.
Woven throughout are random facts that serve to extend each essay beyond the realm of memoir and situate the writer's life in the wider course of history. In the opening essay, we learn that the year of Sonik's birth (1959) also saw the Dalai Lama flee Tibet A year later, birth control pills hit the mainstream and 23 years later the "AIDS epidemic makes condoms accessible everywhere and politically correct." It's a neat technique, but these little details don't always gel with the rest of the narrative. One can see a link between the availability of contraceptive methods and Sonik's birth (if the little pills had been readily available any earlier she may not have been conceived), but the Dalai Lama is never mentioned again nor are any wider spiritual implications he might have had on Sonik's life.
Sometimes these facts are used to jar the reader, particularly in sections that delve in to the public -private lives of neighbours and families. This dichotomy is particularly harsh in Sonik's own coming-of-age story. Her father wore many faces: an abusive alcoholic, a veteran in the Korean war, a Superman-type figure and ultimately a multifaceted human being who was deeply flawed. Each essay serves to unravel the complexities of her family life, where events are told and retold, looping back with more information that casts a different light on what occurred. Her gift for this cyclical form of storytelling draws out the sharp contrasts between the adult she is now and the child who intuited something was wrong, but didn't yet have the vocabulary to name it. As this collection comes to its close, 1 can only hope she picks up this thread right where she left off in her next book. (Nico Mara-McKay)