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This article was published 18/7/2009 (3258 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Essays on Violence, Health and Identity
By Ron Charach
Wolsak and Wynn, 187 pages, $19
IN his first non-fiction collection, Ron Charach straddles the mediums of psychiatry and literature. And he keeps his balance — mostly.
Charach is a Winnipeg-born-and-raised and Toronto-resident psychiatrist. He's also the author of seven poetry collections, a prolific newspaper contributor and a columnist with the Medical Post magazine, where some of these pieces first appeared.
He makes no bones about his literary aspirations, and even invokes the 16th-century French pioneer of the literary essay, Michel de Montaigne, as inspiration.
Charach holds that literary art, as much or more than psychiatry, should be rooted in reality.
His goal, therefore, is no less than to "make sense of what has gone awry in North American society and abroad." And his stated focus is to urge "society do a better, saner job at controlling lethal agents like firearms, while also taking a closer look at how highly addictive activities might be affecting the readiness of our youth to emerge as the leaders of tomorrow."
Put that way, he sounds preachy.
But the devil is in the details. And the details here are often artfully marshalled.
Charach divides his collection into three parts, dealing respectively with violence, health and religious identity.
The first part, titled Gun Violence, is the strongest. Charach convincingly argues that the American constitutional right to bear arms has been twisted out of logical shape by technological advances in weaponry.
As a psychiatrist, he views the easy availability of handguns in the U.S., coupled with the U.S. Supreme Court's striking down of city-enacted bylaws banning handgun ownership, as rampant folly. "[I[t isn't just bred-in-the-bone immoral men who misuse guns. Good men can (and do) become bad men, especially when drunk, too paranoid, too depressed, too jealous, or, dare we say it, too desperately poor. And when they have access to guns, their human frailties can rapidly become human tragedies."
And lest Canadians feel smug about ours being a peaceable society next to the U.S., Charach reminds us that Kimveer Gill, who murdered one and wounded 19 in a 2006 attack on Montreal's Dawson College, "legally obtained his firearms and the permits to use them."
Also noteworthy, under Charach's health rubric in Part 2, is a thoughtful and balanced medico-legal piece on the pros and cons of both marijuana use and marijuana legalization (which he largely favours).
However, not every essay is stellar.
A reflection on a touring anatomy exhibit (Charach dubs it an "extravaganza") he saw at the Ontario Science Centre seems out of place. Likewise, a piece on why he writes poetry comes off as self-indulgent.
The book also could have used a fact checker. There's not a huge number of gaffes, but they tend to surface at the worst of times.
For example, Charach winds down an excellent piece on the concepts of distress and lethality in the context of violence, especially suicidal violence, with criticism of capitalism's culpability in the proliferation of high-tech weapons on the streets of American cities, and offers that "many U.S. legislators in both Houses of Parliament join the boards of defence contractors after they retire."
The U.S. doesn't have Houses of Parliament. It has a Congress, composed of a House of Representatives and Senate.
But, sloppy fact-checking and a couple of dubious inclusions aside, Cowboys & Bleeding Hearts is a lucid and provocative take on how to engage problems of violence and addiction.
Douglas J. Johnston is a Winnipeg lawyer and writer.