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Dead Girls

by Nancy Lee

Dead Girls, the debut offering from Vancouver writer Nancy Lee, is completely free of the tentativeness or uncertainty shown by so many first-time authors. A loosely connected collection of short stories, Dead Girls heralds the arrival of a bold new voice in Canadian writing.

There is an easy fluidity to Lee’s stories. Time frames shift effortlessly. “Rollie and Adele,” for example, reverses the expected chronology, while “Associated Press” easily incorporates the past into the present narrative. Several of the stories employ a second-person point of view with surprising effectiveness, while “Sally, in Parts” uses an anatomical exploration to explore a young woman’s relationship with her father and her own rapacious sexuality. All of these stylistic leaps contribute to the impact of the narrative, and to the impressive quality of Lee’s characterizations.

The stories in Dead Girls are unified by Lee’s treatment of emotional brutality and pain. They are, for the most part, stories of young women, of the emotional peril and brutalities of sex and intimate relationships, and of loss and despair. Vancouver has never seemed so stark, so cavalier, in the cruelty it seems to both tolerate and inflict.

Threaded throughout the collection is the leitmotif of an investigation into the remains of a number of murdered women found in the yard of a Vancouver dental surgeon. The whole story never emerges. Information is parcelled out in overheard newscasts, rumours, and exaggerations, contributing to the sense of violence and despair. The “dead girls” of the title form a pervasive and disturbing background noise for the stories’ foreground events. Only “Sisters,” the final story of the collection, goes without mentioning them; there, the murders are chilling in their absence, and in the implications of that absence. Dead Girls is a disturbing, threatening, and ultimately thrilling debut.