Spoiler: I absolutely loved Wendy McGrath’s trilogy and it’s one of my 2020 standout reading experiences.
In the upcoming Winter issue of Herizons, you can read my review of Wendy McGrath’s final novel in her Edmonton trilogy, Broke City (2019). (Herizons is a Canadian feminist magazine, which I also recently spotted in the pages of Lennie Goodings’ 2020 memoir, A Bite of the Apple: Life with Books, Writers and Virago.)
Here’s what I couldn’t fit into that review, about the other two volumes—Santa Rosa (2011) and North East (2014)—the trilogy overall, and her collection of poetry, A Revision of Forward (2015), all published by NeWest Press. (I’m taking care not to repeat any of the content of my review.)
First, the trilogy begins and ends with the ritual of a Christmas cake. Yum, right? With the first volume, this is a nice touch. By the end of the final volume, it’s a flourish. Not in a satin-bow way. (Twee.) But in an all-is-right-with-the-world way. (Comfortable sigh.)
Each of the three volumes is short, just over a hundred pages. Not novellas, but three distinct and complex works with an overarching connectivity. That having been said, you could sit and read them—say, mid-morning, with a pot of tea—like someone could sit with a collection of poems. Their margins and line-spacing are generous, too, so that even the prose arranged into paragraphs, feels a little like poetry, despite the strong through-narrative.
Each book focuses on Christine, each volume’s Christine having a slightly wider experience of the world, as time unfolds. Readers watch her world expand through the expansion of her understanding.
In the beginning, what she notices are things within arm’s reach, and by the final volume, she is increasingly preoccupied by what exists beyond her grasp. Her experiences are reflected and refracted first in the most basic ways (colour, for instance—so much lovely and pointed use of colour). Gradually her understanding of the world develops and her observations are more nuanced.