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Perfecting [Paperback]

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 1 2009

With blood on his hands, Curtis Woolf flees his home in New Mexico for Canada, where he starts a religious commune, the Family. There he heals others and preaches pacifism while enduring the torment of this own damaged soul. Then his lover, Martha, finds his gun and goes south to discover the truth, whatever that might be. Curtis sets out to bring her back, lest the Family fall apart. In the half-light of a nursing home sits Hollis, dragon lord of a lost Mormon line, who has anointed Curtis, damned him, and now awaits his return.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's writing is full of dark humour and razor-sharp insight. Catching human fallibility head-on, she demands examination, confrontation, and a reckoning of pain with beauty.


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Product Description

Quill & Quire

Toronto writer Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s second novel pivots on the character of Curtis Woolf, who flees his New Mexico home for Ontario, where he establishes up a religious commune known as the Family. Years later, Curtis’s lover, Martha, finds his gun and sets out to uncover the truth about him. This premise seems different from regular CanLit fare, and even sounds promising. Martha retraces what little she knows of Curtis’s assumed past as a draft dodger, crossing over the border  into the U.S., where she follows his long-abandoned Mormon roots to his hometown. She encounters Hattie, the mistress of Hollis, Curtis’s father. The older woman shelters Martha, though Hattie’s illegitimate sons, men riddled with old wounds and grudges, believe her presence will pry open a nasty, 30-year-old can of worms, one which includes murder. All this should provide a delightful, squirmy mess in which to explore themes of devotion, betrayal, and reckoning. But from the outset, Kuitenbrouwer’s writing style is clearly unlike that of her well-crafted debut novel, The Nettle Spinner. Here, a heavy-handed, untamed prose subjugates the story. The overwriting disrupts the flow, as do the preponderance of passive verbs and rambling inner monologues. Passages with abrupt point-of-view shifts, awkward descriptions (“Colm’s corneas were like tunnels”; “His eyes were caked in sadness”), and pretzelled sentences (“There were all these things in the look she gave Martha, and by this look Martha was again made aware of that which she did not want to be made aware of”) intrude and confound. Dialogue rarely gels, rings true, or enlightens; sometimes it’s tough just to tell who’s speaking. Perfecting certainly is different. However, the ideas that manage to surface through the tangled prose – the ripple effects of abuse, war, fear, religion, guilt, love, and redemption – soon lose out to the effort required to navigate the writing’s bizarre overkill. Martha inadvertently sums up this problem when she asks, “Who can say what truth is?” A variation of this question preys on the reader’s mind: Who can say what this book was meant to be? In the end, the only thing that lingers is its exasperating imperfection.

Review

"Perfecting has my vote for most compelling read of the year." — George Murray, The National Post

"My favourite book this year was Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's Perfecting. I loved it because it was different; different from other books I've read, different from the "typical Canadian novel" many people seem to hold in contempt. I also loved it because it was chock-full of symbols and I've always been a fan of symbolism." — Mélanie Grondi, Rover

"A powerful story, brilliantly told, and it surprised me from its opening page to its closing words. It's all I want in a book, and I'm grateful that I didn't miss it. You shouldn't, either." — Robert J. Wiersema, Edmonton Journal

"As difficult as Kuitenbrouwer's plots are to diagram, her main project to date is crystal clear: exploring the radiating effects of violence. . . . Brava!" — Ariel Gordon, Winnipeg Free Press

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Evil Pays Forward Dec 6 2009
Format:Paperback
Perfecting is a fascinating (and perhaps essential) study of the damaged and the damned. How evil pays forward. How half-blind attempts to find personal redemption can go pathetically awry. In sinuous language that twines from the minds of her characters into the reader's own subconscious realms, Kuitenbrouwer lures us along taut story threads to a brilliantly executed moment of retribution -- and surprise.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A powerful set-up that never quite delivers June 14 2009
Format:Paperback
Perfecting commences strongly, with striking characters all moving towards a dramatic collision with each other, against the backdrop of a looming storm. The shifting emotions of Martha, a woman who has spent most of her life in a cult but now feels compelled to leave it, are very well handled (as I can attest, having myself once left a cult after many years). The two most striking characters are Hollis, the aging patriarch of two families of angry men, and Curtis, one of Hollis' sons who tries to remake himself into a saint by founding a small cult in Ontario. The plot fairly demands that the two must ultimately meet again face to face, but here the reader is disappointed. The book's climax and resolution fail to deliver on the full dramatic potential of its powerful set-up.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars How Evil Pays Forward Dec 6 2009
By Barbara Lambert - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Perfecting is a fascinating (and perhaps essential) study of the damaged and the damned. How evil pays forward. How half-blind attempts to find personal redemption can go pathetically awry. In sinuous language that twines from the minds of her characters into the reader's own subconscious realms, Kuitenbrouwer lures us along taut story threads to a brilliantly executed moment of retribution -- and surprise.
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