But this does not mean that this family cannot be understood as a political constellation. The family members relate to the world with violence, trying to make others conform to their desires with guns and drugs, a path that leads finally to a terrible action. This action transforms the novel from a type of ethnography and the characters from symbols of a certain kind of cultural actors into themselves, into individuals who believe they can no longer hide in the shadows of their culture and their history. The characters step out in front of the landscape, step out of the shadows of generalities, of being movers in a Great Canadian Novel.
Essential to understanding the novel and its characters is to trace the history of the family as it moves from America to Canada, from one geographical and historical site of colonization to another. In their home in British Columbia, the Stark family believe themselves to be less culpable. They are not like the Americans who do not believe in history, they are people who understand history and so are released from its bonds.
Canadians, in this narrative and in other narratives as well, stand in as a sort of anti-imperialist actor when set against the avaricious land-hunger of the Americans. Edward Said, the ur-writer of postcolonialism, writes about how "other" people become visible only when they serve a useful cultural purpose for those with power.
To the extent that Western scholars were aware of contemporary Orientals or Oriental movements of thought and culture, these were perceived either as silent shadows to be animated by the Orientalist, brought into reality by them, or as a kind of cultural and international proletariat useful for the Orientalist's grander interpretive activity. (Said, 1978: 208)
This process of bringing into reality people only when they serve a direct purpose is a postcolonial process, but it is also the relationship between an author and his, or her, characters. And it is also the relationship between a reader and a set of characters. This set of nested relationships is a sine qua non-of postmodernism, as Barthes summarizes it:
My ideal Postmodernist author neither merely repudiates nor merely imitates either his 20th-century Modernist parents or his 19th-century premodernist grandparents. He has the first half of our century under his belt, but not on his back. Without lapsing into moral or artistic simplism, shoddy craftsmanship, Madison Avenue venality, or either false or real naivete, he nevertheless aspires to a fiction more democratic in its appeal than such late-Modernist marvels as Beckett's Texts for Nothing... The ideal Postmodernist novel will somehow rise above the quarrel between realism and irrealism, formalism and "contentism," pure and committed literature, coterie fiction and junk fiction.
The strength of this novel, as well as its primary weakness is that Lane twists and turns this postcolonial perspective so that it serves all of these different functions. This is a very great weight for a theoretical model (even one as robust as postcolonialism) to hold up.
The shifting perspective of the novel between America and Canada is a shift from the center to the periphery as these terms are defined in postmodernism. That is there is a vacillation in the novel and with the characters between different degrees of responsibility. The characters in the novel spend an enormous amount of energy trying to figure out who can be blamed for what. Hooks would argue that this is the same dance that occurs in a newly freed nation with people who have never before had the freedom that requires true responsibility.
This is an intervention. A message from that space in the margin that is a site of creativity and power, that inclusive space where we recover ourselves, where we meet in solidarity to erase the category colonized/colonizer. Marginality is the space [site] of resistance. Enter that space. Let us meet there. Enter that space. We greet you as liberators. (hooks, 1990: 152)
Lane asks us to take successive leaps with him as he skips across the valleys and peaks of postmodernism and postcolonialism, trying to find meaning in a world that has lost all of its sureties. Postcolonialism, for all of its novelty, is a model that necessarily looks backward.
Gilbert, H. & Tompkins, J. (1996). Post-colonial drama: Theory, practice, politics. New York: Routledge.
hooks, b. (1990). Yearning: Race, gender and cultural politics. Boston: South End.…