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Vancouver Sun: Imaginary affirmations: From Anne Cameron, a magical and moving fable. . .
January 4, 1997

These are stories of loss and reclamation.
Designed like a fable, Selkie begins at a point of extreme despair and works steadfastly toward enlightened resolution. Anne Cameron's tale may be simple in form but it is nevertheless moving, testifying to one woman's unequivocal victory over adversity. . .

Anne Cameron's Selkie is economically direct and resolute. In a present-day B.C. town, Cassidy Forbes is isolated in an oppressive marriage. With the exception of her two adoring daughters, Cassidy's entire life has been plagued by misfortune and violence: predating her brutal husband was a negligent, alcoholic father who managed family problems with his fists.

Like Cinderella or any fairy-tale damsel in a rut, Cassidy finds her life taking a sudden and improbable turn. As the novel opens her home is drenched with a downpour which seems to have no source. The rain eventually results in her husband's rage - and her hospitalization once he decides where to vent it. In the hospital, a comatose Cassidy displays more bruises each day, as though her body is testifying to its years of abuse.

Cloudless rain and inexplicable bruises are only the beginning of Cassidy's transformation. Once released from the hospital she begins to explore where a husband-free life might lead. Almost at once (as we might expect in a fairy tale) she is transported to an enigmatic island in which magical seal-people - the selkies of the title act as whimsical escorts for her journey toward healthy selfhood. The novel closes with Cassidy in the erotic embrace of a female selkie (in human form) named Seale. Her future options seem endless.

While the blunt juxtaposition of realism and the fantastic might seem jarring and a too-easy solution to a complex problem, Cameron clearly writes Selkie in the spirit of a winter's tale with a scarcely disguised message. . . as a rousing fable of affirmation it serves well.

-Brett Josef Grubisic, Vancouver Sun


Globe and Mail, March 22 1997: Nimbly navigating the shoals of abuse: hope and the celebration of new identity and sexuality are a welcome relief from pessimism and passivity: Selkie.

FANS of Anne Cameron will find familiar territory in her new novel, Selkie - family violence, alcoholism and a woman's quest for escape with the help and guidance of legends.

Inside Cassidy Forbes's house it's raining. It defies plumbers, enrages her husband. When a police officer notices her bruises, Cassie says, "It's not as bad as it looks, I've had worse." Then adds, "The thing is . . . you can't keep them there [in jail] forever." Since she's been silent during decades of abuse, this is a breakthrough.

Cassie leaves her husband, but wherever he is, the rain continues. In hospital, her bruises mysteriously
worsen, she grows new teeth. She wonders, ponders and dreams. Meticulously rendered dreams, while
fascinating to the dreamer, are tedious here. Cassie, though, asks some questions. Why do some people
need to control others? Why did she hand over control so easily? . . .

Miraculously, Cassie gets swept into a "big black islet" where "there were no feeling-police on this boulder with her, no emotion-cops, no thought-controllers," commencing a sea-change. Rocks unfold women's stories, she etches hers. Her thermos of coffee never empties. She shares a cigarette with a rock. More dreams, conversations with spirits, and a flashback chapter of horrendous parental abuse where Cassie offers rare insight into self-blame.

Back on her "rock womb" she wonders if she's dead and being judged, and ruminates: "Maybe thoughts like this were signs of boiled brain syndrome." (Purple prose abounds.) Inspired by women in the petroglyphs, "exquisitely vulvic" mussels, and a beautiful seal-woman (the Selkie), Cassie undergoes spiritual and sexual re-birth.

. . .The novel's greatest strength is in the relationship between Cassie and her daughters. It rings authentic.

Her characterization of marriage is a hoot. Cassie "didn't care" about her husband's lovers: "Whether they're vacuuming your floor, cleaning the drapes, washing the windows, doing the ironing or screwing your husband, if they're doing your job, they are your servants." . . . hope and the celebration of a new identity and sexuality are a relief from pessimism and passivity. . . transformation, empowerment and healing happen. . .

Thea Caplan has counselled abused women and taught assertiveness training. Her short stories have been published widely in Canada and the United States. She is currently working on a novel.