Shane's Reviews > Black Star

Black Star by Maureen Medved
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A dark tale uncovered by a frenetic journey through the mind of an unreliable narrator is a welcome change from the more sugar coated tomes of CanLit I have been reading recently.

Del Hanks is forty, frenetic and fearful. A kid from the sticks with an over-critical mother, she has no relationships, abhors human touch, and is maniacally focused on publishing her second book of philosophy and obtaining tenure at the university she has been teaching at for the last six years. Academia is her way out of an impoverished upbringing. She is envious of a younger faculty member, Helene LeBec, who has just arrived on the scene after publishing her first book to critical acclaim. LeBec has cultivated a social media persona and is quietly seducing the department head, Denke, who holds the reins to Del’s tenure. Gradually, faculty who don’t find favour with LeBec get fired or retire. Del finds herself coming under Lebec’s crosshairs.

Del is also drawn to a hobo, Cody, who hangs out under a stairwell in the university. Cody represents her unborn (and probably never to be born) child; he shares her loneliness, her fear of doom and defeat, and is the marginalized outsider with a dark secret just as Del is.

Driven by Del’s paranoia, the narrative circles and plumbs deeper into the past, where we discover that she has been the victim of sexual abuse. The world of academia is laid bare for its shifting flavours of the month, for its abusive faculty, for its petty politics—it is not a nice place, and yet we wonder why people pay so much and strive so much for its approbation and credentials. We also discover that Del has used her previous abuse to her advantage to advance in academia to the position she now holds. When the attraction between Del and Cody bubbles over into physical contact, the past is set to replay itself. But second chances do not mean better outcomes.

There is no hope in this book, and I wondered why we would read it. For the fresh and punchy language? For the subtle exposé of academic life? As a cautionary tale about the long term effects of sexual abuse? Perhaps. But there is no way through in this book and its dilemmas, and the narrative subsides into admitting that sexual and power abuse just leads one way: to the complete annihilation of the victim. I also found my pet peeve of CanLit prevalent here: no location is mentioned, although LeBec is mentioned as hailing from Idaho—is this clever positioning for sales in the USA?

What I took away from the device of using a frenetic and rambling narrator is that it provides an opportunity for selective revelation. Scenes can be revisited and new nuggets of information can be dropped without lapsing into contrivance. And for a book like this, where Del’s academic perseverance is at war with her inner demons of failure, that is a useful method of plunging us deeper and deeper into her scary world and creating an unforgettable character.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 9, 2019 – Shelved
January 9, 2019 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Maureen (new)

Maureen Medved Hi Shane - thank you for the comments.

Shane Maureen wrote: "Hi Shane - thank you for the comments."

You are welcome!

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