Poetic novel proves the power of small publishers

Leaving Now

By Arleen Paré Caitlin Press, 162pp., $18.95

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Arleen Paré's Leaving Now is a lyrical novel dealing with the many emotions a mother faces when making a decision to leave her family.

That night when I got home I could not pull the curtain closed against the night, the open-wide revealing everything I'd need to know.

Nothing ever the same

The "leaving" happens in different ways; first as she starts an affair with another woman, leaving her husband before he fully realizes, then morphing from an emotional leaving to the more physical leaving of the family home and eventually the family.

As the mother comes to terms with her new life, she is forced with unmaking the life she has been living while causing as little damage as she can to those involved. Paré deals with the many emotions involved in such a life-changing decision, but thankfully does not focus on the fighting and blaming that the bulk of breakup stories do. Being the "leaver," the mother shoulders the burden breaking the family, but it is much more a story of change than of blame or bitterness.

Paré is a past winner of the Victoria Butler Book Prize, and it is easy to see why. She moves seamlessly between poetry and prose in the pages of Leaving Now, writing with an obvious respect for language. By making the choice to incorporate as much poetry into the novel as she does, Paré limits the actual number of words that makes up her story. There is a significant amount of white space in an already slim book, so it is especially important that the right words are in the right spaces. It's a job Paré has done very well.

And while the term "fairytale" sounds promising, as in a fairytale ending, not all fairytales end happily. Not for everyone.

A fairytale contains a lesson.

In a fairytale the mother is almost always absent, missing from the action.

In this fairytale I am the mother.

Fairytales are a recurring theme, and Paré also tells the story of Gudrun, the mother of Hansel and Gretel, who one day appears in the narrator's kitchen. Gudrun offers her own tale of leaving and her 500-year effort to return to her children.

Adding a ghost-story subplot seems somewhat strange at first but, given the emotional issues Paré's character is dealing with, having a kitchen apparition to discuss things with is not totally unreasonable.

Published by Caitlin Press, a small publisher out of Halfmoon Bay, the production of Leaving Now is given the same respect that Paré gives to her choice of words. From the stunning cover by artist Arleigh Wood (who, in a nice touch, is given space at the end of the book to detail the inspiration for the artwork) to the choice of paper, it is a book that reaffirms the notion that there is something special about words on paper.

At 162 pages, Leaving Now does not require a bigtime commitment from the reader - it is one of those great leisurely morning reads that can easily be finished in a single sitting. In fact, Leaving Now would be difficult to put down regardless of its length; it is an excellent example of what makes small-press publishing houses so important.

Colin Holt is a reviewer and bookseller in Victoria.

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