Growing Down, The Great [Canadian®] Novel


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The Globe and Mail

On its surface, The Red Word is the story of an on-campus battle of the sexes.

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Its subject, however, is the danger of personal myth. Forced to attend a conference in the town of her alma mater, Karen faces a reunion and a reckoning with her past. Cut to September, It seems the frat brothers act with impunity. Assaults by frat brothers never result in criminal charges or academic punishment.

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So the Raghurst women take action on the belief the ends will justify their means. Henstra fondly recreates the on-campus feminism of a particular time and place, employing a style imitating Homer complete with compound adjectives: The Raghurst version of feminism has its limits: The Red Word is additionally a novel about some timeless aspects of student life, from the youthful embrace of new ideas to the influence of group dynamics. An epic catalogue describes all the forms of self-expression at a potluck.

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All this exalting language perfectly captures the self-importance of youth and, simultaneously, nostalgia for the age when everything could mean so much. Extremism is not the only form of violence.

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The Red Word leaves us considering the casualties of this battle, the imperfect victims: Professor Del Hanks is on the verge of tenure despite not yet having finished her second book still, after a decade when two events threaten to topple her plans. The second is a young man, presumably homeless, living under the stairs of a university building.

Worried that responding to him in any way could jeopardize her promotion, Del ignores him. In other words, unlikeable. Black Star is a black comedy turned psychological thriller filled with dark ironies:. Del's area is moral philosophy. Her therapist tells her: It is said of Helen LeBec: Explaining too much of this novel risks taking away one of its principal pleasures, which is trying to piece together what is really going on in the world outside this mind coming undone under extreme stress.

Is Del paranoid about her prospects or is she truly a fraud? Is the push for tenure simply driving her insane? All of the above? Whether Del sees it or not, there is a feminist perspective to the story of her unravelling. Del is an untrustworthy narrator about everything except the one thing she wants to keep hidden: Who will be held accountable? In different ways, The Red Word and Black Star warn against ignoring the thing that is right in front of you. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way.

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