'Everything is music': Stolen by Annette Lapointe
Stolen. Annette Lapointe. Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2006. ISBN:1 895636 73 6. 232 pp. Pbk.
After reading Annette Lapointe's debut novel, Stolen, the reader will not be surprised that it took home two awards at the Saskatchewan Book Awards, the Saskatoon Book Award and First Book Award, and was also long-listed for the Giller Prize. Published by Anvil Press, Lapointe's captivating novel takes on various contentious topics, such as urban and rural decay, music, drugs, sexuality, and mental illness--all of which are explored throughout her intoxicating portrayal of the Saskatchewan landscape.
The novel follows the intensely unlikable Rowan Friesen as he criss-crosses the country, thieving, cheating, and selling drugs to teenagers to support his solitary lifestyle on the outskirts of Saskatoon. While his lifestyle is seemingly unorthodox, we soon learn about the complexities that precede his present behaviour: the break up of his parents' unhappy marriage to due his father's mental illness, his mother's subsequent quest to 'find herself,' and Rowan's bisexuality.
The text begins with the lines "[e]verything is music," which serves to (dis)arrange the plot trajectory of Stolen. Music, and listening to music, is individual as much as it is meant for public consumption. Music is a source of escapism for Rowan. As Lapointe notes, "[l]ong arms of music stretch out, jointed by mood or beat or something subdural that he doesn't have a name for" (9). However, while Rowan attempts to carefully record or arrange his 'mixed-tapes' [read his life], it is evident that Rowan's life is in a state of discord. Indeed, Rowan's life can be fairly characterized by the title of the first chapter, "Root System." Due to his tenuous connection to his past, Rowan lives on the margins of society, "marking his territory" (11), because his most "destructive urges leave something behind" (231): he yearns to find his roots. However, despite his constant wandering, one thing is clear: Rowan has a deep connection to the Saskatchewan landscape. The following passage aptly describes both the addictive beauty of rural Saskatchewan, and Rowan's connection to the prairies:
Snow still lurks back in the bush. Winter was hard; it hangs on for a long timeâ€¦Low grey spreads out for thirty miles from the South Saskatchewan River before open ground takes over. In that growth, tangled in the snow and shielded from the sun, it's always unreasonably cold. He knows the snow is there, but he can't see it. The night's so beautiful. It's a perfect smoke-colour created by distance and the barest haze of tractor-burned diesel. Dust rising from scattered fields. He's almost exactly one thousand miles south of the Arctic Circleâ€¦This night is so beautiful it's like a post-coital high. He last had sex fifty-seven weeks ago (11-12).
Here, Lapointe accentuates the stereotyped harsh and uninviting prairie landscape, which then becomes a character whose beauty Rowan relates to a "post-coital high" (12). This intertwining of sexuality and landscape bodes well for the overarching theme of addiction in Stolen.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, I do have a few minor complaints. At times, the characters' actions are elliptical, far-reaching, and slightly unbelievable. Both Rowan's father, and his lover, Macon, suffer from mental illnesses that warrant institutionalization. Sexuality, while not static, is fully explored by Rowan and his mother. Although it could be argued that Rowan mimics his mother's exploration, and therefore embarks on his own, or that due to the exposure to his father's illness, he seeks a partner who suffers from the same illness, the similarities in plot tend to feel a bit contrived. Apart from Rowan, and possibly his father, the characters could have been more developed. There is also an awkward, recurring, subplot in which Rowan meets/exploits a young Aboriginal woman, which seems extraneous to the text as a whole. Further, while I appreciate Lapointe's creativity, I found that perhaps she was a little too free in the naming of a few of her characters. The names of the protagonist, Rowan, and his high-school lover, Macon, are distracting and serve to take away from the gravity of their relationship. This point also holds true with Macon and his unfortunately named sister, Georgia.
As the Winnipeg Free Press offers, "[d]espite the grim rural-dystopian setting of failing farms and strung-out teenagers and dysfunctional families, this is a novel of redemption." Indeed, Lapointe tackles cross-generational concerns that are not necessarily specific to the prairies, without apology or patronization. Although the characters face an overwhelming sense of despair, by the end of the novel, Lapointe contends that if not harmony, at least a sense of natural rhythm will prevail in their lives.