March 19, 2013

M in the Abstract

by Douglas Davey
Red Deer Press
216 pp.
Ages 14+
March, 2013

We all have voices in our heads directing our actions.  They may be the voices of our parents who reminded us what to do or not do; our consciences lacing our decision-making with guilt or clarity; our inner children begging to be heard; or even our own voices silently repeating a mantra for living a better life.  Most of us can tell the source of those voices and heed them accordingly.  But what if you couldn't discern the source of the voices?  Or they're so loud and insistent that they're impossible to ignore?  Or what if they seem to be accompanied by dark wispy shadows that torment and tantalize?  How do you make sense of your voices then?

This is Mary's reality (or maybe not).  For Mary, whose real name is Mariposa (though her mother always calls her Posey), the voices are persistent, often warning her against interactions with others and arguing with her choices or suppositions.
This is not a place for you (pg. 38)
Remember the last one seemed friendly (pg. 60)
Stop this before you get in over your head (pg. 63)
But with a move from the suburbs to town, Mary is exposed to new people at school and elsewhere.  Her mom may want Mary to change her look, to make new friends and to wipe away all memory of her dad (who'd inexplicably left ten years earlier), but these stresses continue to bring forth the voices and the dark shadows that drift around her.

Mary tries to appease her mother and even thinks about making herself happy, considering having a boyfriend after two different boys show an interest in her.  But her lack of experience interacting with others have her reconsidering every decision she makes, sometimes overreacting and confusing others.  As Mary tries to navigate successfully into new relationships, she begins to consider what the voices and shadows truly mean.

Douglas Davey presents Mary's situation in haunting colours of loneliness, confusion, dismal weather, and wispy shadows.  Even as Mary meets new people and experiences positive interactions, Douglas Davey does not allow the reader to forget the trepidation that accompanies each new encounter.  Sadly even as she enjoys moments of camaraderie and fleeting affection, they're sabotaged.  But the source of the sabotage is unclear.  When I began reading, I wondered whether M in the Abstract was speculative fiction and the voices fantastic elements of a new world. (In my defense, I try not to read too much about any book before I read it to ensure my review is truly my own.)  I realized soon enough that I was wrong. As the title suggests, Mary is an enigma, unsure of herself. When she signs the class register, she signs it as M, not Mariposa, not Mary.   The book M in the Abstract is as abstract as its protagonist in that it is a complex examination of a girl with legitimate worries and in transition.  How she interprets and deals with those concerns is profound, as is how the story resolves itself.  To its very end, the story is abstruse, just as it would undoubtedly be in reality.

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