THE teenagers in Annette Lapointe’s rural Saskatchewan in the ’80s are nothing like the jock/nerd/princess stereotypes that fill John Hughes’ classic movies such The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink.
Lapointe’s characters into hairy, stinky, violent beasts. The teen-idol werewolf hunks from Twilight probably wouldn’t survive a hockey initiation in this novel.
Lapointe earned a PhD in Canadian literature from the University of Manitoba and now teaches in Grande Prairie, Alta. She was long-listed for a Giller Prize in 2006 for her first novel, Stolen. In this, her followup, she revisits the underbelly of rural life outside Saskatoon.
The teen world in Whitetail Shooting Gallery will make you squirm. It’s dark and gritty, but it’s also pretty funny.
Jennifer is an overweight teen who is "smart the way few people will ever be in a town that brews fetal alcohol syndrome like gestational moonshine."
She lives in a world of pregnant teens, hockey fights and a principal who won’t come out of his office because the kids are all "cannibals."
Jennifer has always had a vaguely incestuous relationship with her cousin Jason. But they grow apart as Jason explores his homosexuality in the hockey arena and Jennifer goes under the covers with her best friend Donna, another overweight "freak."
Then one day Jennifer gets shot in the face in a supposed hunting accident, and the fallout affects all three of them into adulthood.
In Whitetail Shooting Gallery, Lapointe gives us an animalistic view of the teen world. This is not small-town rural life as idyllic or pastoral. Lapointe’s world reflects the turmoil, raging emotions and hormones brewing inside adolescents.
Here’s a brief sample of Lapointe’s prose: "Glittering, athletic girls fight skanked-out, neglected children, who fight the odd, stillcloseted lesbians with their hair spikes and boys’ clothes that are obvious to everyone but them. Guys crack ribs and fingers. Girls take off skin and leave deep bruises. One of those chicks takes you one, and you’ll be infertile for years and septic everywhere she scratched you."
Her writing is strong, sharp and visceral. Lapointe finds the beauty and, equally importantly, the humour in this ugly, carnal world. Here is Jason describing Ginger, one of the girls. "If her ragged edges ever start to show, no one in town will survive," Lapointe writes. "The dust will settle, the morning after her rampage, and there will be this bloody, big girl perched on the water tower like a flying monkey, chewing on bits of human bone while she studies the wreckage."
The plot of Whitetail Shooting Gallery can be confusing. Lapointe jumps back and forth between the perspectives of Jennifer and Jason. She jumps timelines as well.
But the plot is almost secondary to Lapointe’s vivid, powerful voice and her beautifully savage view of rural prairie life.
Joanne Kelly teaches journalism at Red River College. To join her book club at McNally Robinson, contact her on Twitter@joannemkelly.