Consider the Hollyhocks by Marg Wilson
The Mercury Press, Stratford, 1992; paperback, $11.95, 144 pages

review by Nathalie Stephens

Consider the Hollyhocks is a powerful collection of seven stories by Marg Wilson, thematically centered around dysfunctional families and the broken lives that are a reflection of the torn fabric of Canadian society. Most often, the victims are women and children.

Marg Wilson's
eye for detail
has resulted
in an accurate
reflection of
society as
by the young
and by women.

In the title story, a young working-class girl is sent to stay with her middle-class aunt for a week, during which time she discovers her hidden artistic talent, and learns how integral pain and feeling are to bringing the beauty of her art alive on the canvas. "Consider the Hollyhocks" is a sensitive story among many in which Marg Wilson pays close attention to young people and their very real emotions that adults often ignore.

In "Many Minor Moons," a woman looks to the waxing and waning moon for solace, as she awaits a meeting with a former lover. In this moving story, the author explores the cruelty of destiny. "Many Minor Moons" is full of the sadness and frustration of a woman unable to fulfill her dreams, subscribing, instead, to a "comfortable" life as wife, mother, nurturer, and the emptiness that such a life-style can carry.

"Nobody Wears Orange" is told from a child's point of view. It painfully exposes her vulnerability and her role as silent witness to her father's adultery, while in "A Blue Car," an overworked and exhausted mother sends her children out for a walk with their father, who leaves them waiting outside a bar while he goes in to get drunk.

"A Visitor's Guide" is the story of a textile designer who escapes from the stress of her job to a vacation in Cuba, where, instead of love, she finds loneliness. "The Singing Rocks" is the story of a young man's resentment of his mother's new boyfriend.

All of the stories in Consider the Hollyhocks are "incandescent moments of life inspired by blood-clotting scratches on the soul" (p. 9). What impressed me most was the simplicity with which Marg Wilson is able to take snatches of everyday life and transfer them onto the written page, weaving the small, but significant details that amount to experience into texts that bleed with the urgency of living.

Abandonment is a recurring theme in all of the stories contained in this collection; abandonment of children and young people by adults, of women by men. Abandonment of hope, dreams and life. Marg Wilson's eye for detail has resulted in a book full of life and an accurate reflection of white Canadian society as experienced by the young and by women in their struggle to create a safe space and then have it slip away from them. The author's sensitivity to children and young people and their often silenced needs allows readers to become further aware of the ways in which "grown-ups" ignore them. She is equally sensitive to women's needs and their difficulty in fulfilling them within patriarchal society. The women in Consider the Hollyhocks are very real, and find that there are no easy solutions to their struggles, which often involve broken marriages, unhappy children and unfulfilling jobs.

I hope that this book will find its way onto reading lists and into the school curriculum, for it shows a side of life that I certainly did not read of when I was in school. While it is not representative of all parts of Canadian society--no one work can be--it does approach certain issues and experiences with sensitivity; namely, the experiences of white women, children and working class people. Wilson's approach is not dogmatic. Her style is very gentle. She only paints the picture. It is up to the reader to look into it and see for herself the pain that writhes there.

I hope that in future works, Marg Wilson will use her insight and talent to make a more complete representation of this small corner of the world we live in. When re-reading Consider the Hollyhocks, I began to question our approach, as white women writers, to writing. We often consider as "given" that a character not physically described is a white character, while Black writers and writers of colour often describe at great length the colour and cultural specificity of their characters. While many may disagree with me, I think that as conscientious writers who happen to be white, living in a white-dominant society (dare I say world?), we should look at such details as equally important as the colour of hollyhocks on a canvas. Not to do so is to subscribe--if only subtly, and perhaps unknowingly--to the idea that white is "normal", therefore a "given" and need not be stated as such. This said, I am looking forward to reading more of Marg Wilson's work.

Nathalie Stephens is a writer, poet and translator living in Toronto.

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