by Shani Mootoo
Akashic Books. 336 pages, $16.95
AS THE TITLE already hints, the central metaphor in this novel is based on the pathetic fallacy: in this case using the weather to represent the emotions of the central characters. But the trick works in Shani Mootoo’s Polar Vortex. The shocking difference between a freezing, ice-bound winter in rural Ontario one year and a lack of snow the next throws a lesbian couple off their guard, reflecting the instability of their relationship and the half truths upon which it is based.
Priya, the primary narrator, is a visual artist who immigrated permanently to Toronto after going there from the Caribbean on a student visa to attend university. Having been raised in a traditional family of Indian descent, she fled the prospect of a marriage that would have been more-or-less arranged by her parents. In Toronto, she finds a lesbian community and eventually meets Alex, a brilliant English-Canadian writer and academic. Shortly after they meet, the two women decide they were meant to be life partners.
From the beginning, however, each woman sees the other through a veil of wishful thinking and thus misses her truth. Priya explains: “Alex tells people it was my confidence, my unwavering sense of self, that attracted her to me. In the early days I’d tell her it was nothing but well-practiced posturing. Calm on the surface but paddling like hell beneath, I’d say, laughing. But she’d think I was being modest and this, too, she found attractive.”
Jean Roberta is a widely published writer based in Regina, Canada.