Articles & Reviews

Ronald Charles Epstein, review of The Mystic Beast, Canadian Book Review Annual, 1998

Stephen Morrissey, a literature professor at Montreal's Champlain College, explores the effect of his childhood loss in The Mystic Beast, Book Three of The Shadow Trilogy.

The first section, Tapes From the Unconscious, presents the book's central theme: the poet's quest to understand the loss of his father, who died when Stephen was six. Thirty years later, he visits his father's "unmarked and unvisited" grave, reviving memories of his family's misguided minimalization of that event. It was even rumoured that "for the price/ of a monument/ Mother bought/ a grey lamb fur coat." Morrissey can't-or won't-explain what would have produced this strange and inappropriate response to a family tragedy.

The poet seeks understanding through a utilitarian nostalgia. Certain memories are deliberately sought out: he takes his mother and son to a restaurant on "Rue Notre Dame." Other recollections are accidentally prompted, including "WQEW radio from New York City, featuring... Glen Miller's orchestra," his father's favourite. (One should note that both men died prematurely.) Morrissey's memories enlighten readers, enabling them to accompany him on his spiritual journeys.

The next section, Hangings and Executions, observes the outer world. "1950", the poet's birth date, is also the midpoint of our violent century. The middle-class child, who watched World War II documentaries on television, remembers Jewish classmates who had lost relatives in the Holocaust and extends his gaze outwards to other atrocities-"Rwanda, Armenia... Bosnia."

Form is content's ideal servant here, efficient and discreet. Both effectively animate an emotional odyssey that is guided by a profound understanding of the past's effect on the present.

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