The Art of Trespassing: Contested geographies

The writers in this anthology take the ancient art of trespassing to new levels by questioning and transgressing not only personal boundaries, but society's as well

| June 16, 2011
The Art of Trespassing: Contested geographies

The Art of Trespassing

by Anna Leventhal, ed.
(Invisible Publishing,
2008;
$14.95)

The politics of space and place are never neutral. Though many would like us to believe otherwise, the authors who have contributed to The Art of Trespassing know that geographies are always contested. They take the ancient art of trespassing to new levels by questioning and transgressing not only personal boundaries, but society's as well.

In Anna Leventhal's introductory short story, the book's editor maps the rise and fall of a small, secluded town. In "The land and how it lay," the town becomes locally renowned for its numerous snakes and elegantly crafted ladders. Neglect feeds upon neglect as the town faces its demise. Like dormant dreams, the snakes disappear from sight, burrowing under the town's abandoned ladder workshop. When the workshop is deliberately burned down, the snakes escape en masse, offering a glimmer hope that quickly disappears. This tale is like a shifting map, changing over the vast expanse of time.

Compare this with Leventhal's brief, but cleverly crafted epilogue "The land and how it lied," where she contextualizes the unique memories that we all have of certain places by pointing out that they are all subjective and impermanent, like us, and the land itself. The stories in between Leventhal's offer a wide array of glimpses into personal negotiations with boundaries.

There is the young man in "Bluebirds" by Sean Michaels whose sense of belonging is in tatters: "I put on my old winter coat and maybe it felt like home. Maybe like warmth, maybe like home; I wasn't sure if they were the same thing." After witnessing Santa Claus get assassinated in a Montreal parade, he decides to leave home to find himself and arbitrarily picks Bluebird, Thailand because the name intrigues him. Does he find what he's looking for? Well, let's put it this way -- he comes a step closer.

Clearly conflicted, the inner machinations of the carnival circuit are revealed in Vincent Tinguely's "Set up, tear down." Living a vapid existence on the road, at the mercy of the elements, capitalism and reality, a small-time carnie avoids sobriety at all costs. Yet this miserable vocation does not stop him from taking pride in his work as a ferris wheel operator and questioning the larger implications of his work: "What exactly did we think we were doing, bashing this load of ridiculous whirling junk through Northern Ontario? It was well beyond the usual neo-colonial exploitation of logging and mining and suchlike." This short story is both alluring and alarming.

In the hauntingly raw and beautiful story "Jeanne Mance Park" by Wasela Hiyate, the insidiousness of racism is painfully measured in self-loathing and violence. Lucy learns this early when low expectations and sexual innuendo casually confront her. It isn't until she meets a martial artist who explains to her the importance of breathing and self-reflection that things start to fall into place. "You cannot engage properly with an opponent, or, for that matter, a lover, until you've understood the violence within yourself," she discovers. In the end, learning to breathe again becomes symbolic of learning how to live again, despite the scars we all have to live with.

Other authors in this collection include Michelle Sterling, Jeff Miller, Dan Gillean, Adam Bobbette, Sue Carter Flinn, Teri Vlassopoulos, Molly Lynch, Stephen Guy and J.B. Staniforth. All of these unique and emerging voices leave a calm sense of questioning -- you will never look at yourself or your neighbourhood the same way again after reading this book.—Noreen Mae Ritsema

Noreen Mae Ritsema is a Winnipeg-based writer, editor and a regular contributor to rabble's book lounge.

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