- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Key Porter Books (Sept. 8 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1552633470
- ISBN-13: 978-1552633472
- Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 408 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
#2,065,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #18074 in Family Saga (Books)
Critical Injuries: A Novel Paperback – Sep 8 2001
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Critical Injuries, Joan Barfoot's ninth novel, starts with a chance encounter between two strangers. Isla is middle-aged, her kids grown up, and, after a disastrous first husband (who sexually assaulted his underage female employees), happily remarried. One unremarkable day she pops into an ice cream parlour for two cones just as 17-year-old Roddy is pulling an ill-conceived heist. In the confusion, Roddy fires his gun, Isla gets hit by the stray bullet, and she's left paralyzed. Roddy's aimless life has now become fully stupid: he's quickly caught, convicted, and incarcerated. The rest of the novel tells us who these two suddenly connected strangers were before their lives became tragically entangled, and what they each need to do in order to forgive what's past and figure out the future.
The novel's most entertaining storyline concerns Isla's flaky daughter Alix, who has joined a religious cult called Serenity Corps and changed her name to Starglow. She upsets Isla and the rest of the family by suggesting that her mother's tragedy may in fact be an opportunity and that her mother's involuntary "stillness" is a chance to achieve inner peace. Barfoot, probably best known for her 1982 novel Dancing in the Dark, later made into a film, has said that her fiction explores how "a life can turn on a dime." Alix ultimately shows this in the most surprising way when she gets involved with the young criminal in this solidly written and at times thought-provoking novel. --Nigel Hunt
There is a great deal of good news and bad news in this, Joan Barfoot's ninth novel. The book begins with bad news-the worst news of the book, in fact. Isla, a middle-aged partner in an advertising firm, heads into town with her second husband, Lyle, to get celebratory ice creams cones in honour of Lyle's successful attempt at lowering his cholesterol. Lyle waits in the truck while Isla goes in for the cones, stepping right into the middle of what appears to be an armed robbery. As Isla instinctively turns to run, the skinny young man with the gun pulls the trigger, shooting her in the back. With help from Lyle, Isla pieces this chain of events together from the fragments of her memory, as she lies paralyzed in a hospital bed.
From too little information, suddenly too much. Vertebrae. Surgery. Bullet. Not an ending to something strange and confusing, but the beginning of something too awful to contemplate.What most astonishes Isla is how this could come at a moment when her life was just beginning, after much darkness, to allow in light. Her first husband is a wretch, her son is a recovering heroin addict, and her daughter, who now calls herself Starglow, is in the grip of a neo-cult called Serenity. Life with Lyle appeared until this moment to be a slow turning of her fortunes.
One of those moments when life turns completely ass-over-teakettle, in no good way, no good way at all.
As Isla struggles to absorb the calamity that has befallen her, the reader discovers that the shooting is set to destroy the life of one of the robbery participants. For Roddy, the boy with the gun, the shooting was the instantaneous, terrible obliteration of the path he thought would bring him out of misery into happiness. Years earlier, Roddy and his father moved in with Roddy's grandmother. Roddy's mother was a severe manic depressive who was hospitalized when Roddy was very young, and who committed suicide a few years later by throwing herself from an overpass, an event kept from Roddy for years. The robbery of the ice cream shop was a fake, a staged robbery meant to yield him and his best friend, Mike, enough cash to get an apartment in the city where they could begin completely new lives.
The novel, in alternating chapters, follows Isla and Roddy as they struggle with the awful new reality of their lives. Barfoot is a highly skilled, solid writer-a real writer. Too many contemporary writers, secretly or not-so-secretly ashamed of the perceived triviality of culture in their own time, present incorruptibly somber, painstakingly neutered versions of a non-existent past, and/or affect the sort of Platonic, high-minded tone appropriate to literature meant 'for the ages.' They write books they think can sit comfortably on the shelf with the works of Tolstoy and Flaubert and James and the like-not due to a comparable gracing of genius, but because no busy librarian can guess in what era the books were written, or even in which original language.
Barfoot's writing is refreshingly unprecious. She is interested in lives as they are lived, which is not to say that the thematic weight of Critical Injuries is slight. Right from the book's title, this novel's primary concern is with the concentric circles of damage created by unforeseen accidents and acts of cruelty or thoughtlessness. The pivotal shooting has the feel of an experiment set into motion. It is fascinating to see how much Barfoot can draw from this small set of characters, so unexpectedly thrown together. Rather than spin empty, static prose poems in place of human psychology, Barfoot stays close to the ground, allowing her characters' humanity to power the engine that drives the plot's subsequent events. With the exception of a rather awkward and unconvincing coming together of Roddy and Starglow née Alix, Barfoot resists openly nudging her story along to its conclusion. Both Isla and Roddy, one paralyzed, the other incarcerated, have a lot of time to reflect upon their lives up to that point. These reflections form the bulk of the novel, as it moves back and forth between Roddy and Isla, their respective past and present. Barfoot handles this movement with hardly a sign of effort, creating a narrative that is never less than enjoyable.
That Barfoot is such a skilled, entertaining writer is the good news. The bad news is that all of that is not really enough. The control and steadiness she brings to her narrative precludes the kind of loosey-goosey instability, imbalance and, above all, risk that begets the distinction between good and great, brightness and brilliance-both in art and in people. Isla and Roddy and the people surrounding them are given to us through patient portrayal, a steady filling in of pasts with pain. There are no caricatures or stickmen among the novel's characters. Barfoot shows all a rare sympathy. What is lacking is passion. Beyond sympathy, you never get a real sense that Barfoot loves any of her characters. Certainly, none are hated, not even Isla's asshole first husband, who builds a small office-supply empire, only to have it destroyed by his disgusting habit of fondling young, female employees. His downfall is presented as merely pathetic. The effect it has on Isla and their two children is more witnessed than felt. The book's resolution is risky, if only because it is never really in doubt, having been telegraphed from nearly the first chapter on, but Barfoot cannot make it rise above what it appears to be-a nice, big, happy ending. It may be that a preoccupation with the healing process, in evidence here too often, crowds out the injuries themselves; despite all of the awful things that happen to the characters, there is never a sense that very much is at stake. Roddy's essential, if overshadowed, goodness is clear from the moment we first meet him, while Isla always seems more annoyed and frustrated by her fate than enraged. Lyle is strong and supportive throughout, and Isla's son is shown already well on the road to recovery and redemption. Only her daughter remains a mess, and even she quickly shows that she isn't simply foolish and naïve, but merely waiting to discover something to focus on more in tune with her over-sensitive nature.
All of this renders the book's emotional terrain somewhat flat. Barfoot's measured strokes don't allow for the kind of piercing insight only possible through the odd, intemperate jab. It is a bit like watching a race where all the runners cross the finish line together. Barfoot's characters are carefully constructed, her story expertly paced, but the book never truly comes alive. Ultimately, despite the book's numerous strengths, Critical Injuries too often feels like a well-written, minutely detailed outline to a much more ambitious novel. Nathan Whitlock (Books in Canada) -- Books in Canada See all Product description
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Barfoot says she writes because, "I get to live inside other lives, not only my own. This is a kind of dehydrated reincarnation: add words and stir."
Luckily for us her latest reincarnation, her eightth, is one of her best!
This time out, she inhabits forty-nine-year old successful Isla and seventeen-year-old dreamer Roddy. Isla is reveling in second chances. Roddy is about to escape his past. A chance encounter changes everything. Critical Injuries reconstructs their lives with hope and grace.
Barfoot clearly sets the stage of her main characters' inevitable meeting, describing, "One of those moments when life turns completely ass-over-teakettle, in no good way, no good way at all." --Page 12.
One character quickly runs into a store to spend her money; the other is there to improve his financial situation.
While each journey to that moment is truly unique, the way in which their individual paths cross that fateful night, forever unites them. And the consequences of this chance meeting will involve courage and choice.
"Funny how sorrow always seems more powerful than joy. Joy just kind of jogs along, but grief, that really throws a person off the track, onto a new one." pg. 202
I was fascinated with Barfoot's unsentimental voice in the bodies of Isla and Roddy. There is a striking contrast between Barfoot's gift of prose and her main characters' sparse use of verbal expression.
And while most of the characters in Critical Injuries, are "doomed to observer status in the shocking events" [pg. 51] that transpire, I was entertained. I couldn't wait to find out what happens to these characters.
Barfoot's narrative flows seamlessly between Isla's and Roddy's ongoing drama, guiding the reader to its inevitable conclusion.
Barfoot's tale convinces me that living in the moment may be a good thing, for when tragedy befalls us, you'll have more than enough time to recall your past. That is, until you focus on a place you want to be.
Barfoot's yarn is woven to perfection, words spun like the master craftswoman she is. No wonder Critical Injuries is longlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the 2001 Trillium Book Award!
I fully expect to see the cinimatic Critical Injuries, made into a movie and shown at Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals in the very near future. It will be well worth the wait!
The tremendous strength of this novel is in the power of Barfoot's prose to create a sense of immediacy. She does this through establishing powerful voices for her characters that comment upon situations as they occur letting their thoughts and memories leak out into the present moment. Her portrait of each character is deeply sympathetic to their struggle to live happily and thus the reader feels a strong connection to them. It is as if, through a slight alteration of fate, these moving characters could be us and their harrowing events might be ours. Each character is neither perfect nor evil. The author depicts with elegantly constructed prose the flaws of human nature using accuracy and profound wit. The intellectual conflicts the characters face are presented with emotionally rounded pictures lending depth and wisdom to their struggle. The novel makes a powerful impression.
There are some beautiful poignant moments when each of the main characters realize how influential family have been and how little they meant at the time. The first person narrative becomes a bit boring at times but otherwise the story is well told and maintains interest.