I thought I would remind myself, and the Unity-Verse, that I published two books last year. For some reason it’s been easy for me to forget. Some days I struggle to remember my accomplishments. I’m going to remedy that feeling by sharing a review of my books from the always thoughtful and talented Joan Sullivan. This article was published in the Telegram on September 2, 2021. Read on, and thanks so much for spending time with this:
Publishing a book is an accomplishment; having two released concurrently is quite the milestone.
And that’s what Bernardine Ann Teráz Stapleton has achieved with the arrival of “love, life” and “Girly Muckle and the Queer Hands.”
The former is a hybrid, part first-person account of writing, yoga, travel, and the bruising self-image of an aging woman, and part a fictional Venice-imbued romance. “Girly Muckle” blends forms, too, being a tale of coming of age, and into oneself, that has one foot, or flipper, or paw, in the pool of mythology.
The central character of “love, life” — the title’s play on words is both a directive and a nod towards the state known as “how’s the love life?” — is an actress/playwright on top of the tallest hill in Lucca, Italy.
She’s on a yoga retreat, an escape from and solace for her troubles. Which include the recent opening night of her new play “Brazil Square,” already rumoured to be a sold-out hit. Friends had arranged to treat her to a pre-premiere dinner at The Fish Exchange, and she had even decided exactly what she wanted to order (“fresh halibut drizzled with a citronella sauce”) but is unable to get dressed. Because she has. Nothing. To. Wear. More specifically, nothing fits anymore.
The depression and despair that ensues propels her into two journeys, one forward to Lucca, and one backward to her past, when her best friend was Pittman, and they shared an obsession with “The Veiled Virgin,” the glorious and slightly mysterious Giovanni Strazza statue housed at The Presentation Convent in St. John’s, vowing to someday locate its rumoured twin in Italy.
“We would be dressed to the nines, me in a dark purple, crushed velvet dress with puffy sleeves, like the kind Stevie Nicks wore, and Pittman in faded Levi’s and a brown suede jacket with long fringes dangling from the sleeves.”
The present-day timeline of the story then divides between a form of travelogue (“We’re all reeling, because the Leaning Tower of Pisa is on a tilt. Walking up and down the two hundred and fifty-one steps, then navigating around and around the exterior, is almost exactly but not quite like trying to walk to the bar on a Marine Atlantic ferry in a gale of wind. It’s like being drunk, drunk on Italy, which requires no alcohol.”); a look back at her play “Brazil Square” and the leading role of Mrs. Kent, boarding house empress (who “dreams of Italy and eagerly shows off her smattering of Italian words.”); and a love story between NeeNee and Sophia, in Venice (where “pedestrian collisions occur at a rate of one every one-point-three seconds” and “Sophia’s World-Famous Trattoria” with one table and no menu, is “hidden down one of ten thousand unmarked dank alleys.”).
It’s an adroit interweaving, revolving around a central hub of the necessity of self-acknowledgement.
“Girly Muckle and the Queer Hands,” by Bernardine Ann Teráz Stapleton, illustrations by Nicole Leona Smith; Problematic Press; $25; 196 pages. – Contributed
The Young Adult novel, meanwhile, also has its distinct voice: “My name is Girly Muckle. I know, right? How the eff am I supposed to deal with that? I’m living in a world of Antionette’s and Abusala’s majestic, romantic names. I’m stuck with Girly. What about if I didn’t like my assigned gender? What would I be stuck with then? Boy? Not that assigned gender is a topic anyone around here wants to discuss. Ha. More on that later.”
Girly is a selkie, “a shape shifter. I live as human by day. Every night at sunset I transform into my Seal-self.”
As a metaphor for the physical and emotional transitions a teenager undergoes it’s pretty striking. It’s also underscored with threat, because if anyone discovers her selkie shell she will be doomed.
Her best friend, Sasha, is an adlet, “a gentler form of werewolf … Sasha is the coolest, sweetest soul I know. Although, she did once accidentally eat a city track coach.”
Her home is peopled with fantastic creatures, like the Old Hag, and banshees. But her human existence is occupied by attending school, and getting gigs for her band.
“When the Queer Hands are jackin’ and we get into our groove it’s like a game of pinball where our souls just bang off each other.”
Creative ambition and adolescent desire are set against some very high stakes about discovery and continuation.
These amalgams of wry awareness, playful and painful recall, and sheer imagination are both new feats and trademark Stapleton.
Joan Sullivan is editor of “The Newfoundland Quarterly.” She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.