Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
Stone Woman pays homage to the Toronto arts and hippie scene of the 60s. Not only does it explore the ways art affects life, it also delves into how people are connected and bonded through the making and enjoyment of art.
Stone Woman follows the lives of five women, Liza, Anna, Helena, Blossom, and Jane, as they navigate the complexities of their relationships with each other, as well as their relationships with a Vietnam war draft-dodger, David. The story is set in Toronto and written in two parts, both of which centre on the same characters, but are separated by over four decades.
Part one begins in the summer of 1967, when a sculpture exhibition is taking place in Toronto. Anna and Liza are working to organize the event, and come across David during the proceedings. Liza and David soon fall in love, but the fact that Anna and David secretly know each other very well starts to emerge. David also seems to know Helena, a more mysterious woman who is connected to both the arts scene and the gangs of bikers who hang around the Yorkville bars.
When a stone to be sculpted for the exhibit is stolen, suspicion quickly falls on David, a sculptor in his own right, whose application for the exhibition was rejected. He also appears to be connected to the underground movement to help draft dodgers escape to safety in Canada. The storyline slowly sheds light on David’s activities, as well as the connections he has with Liza, Anna and Helena.
The second part of the story picks up over forty years after the first section ends, and focuses on the life of Blossom, the daughter of Liza and David. It delves into the relationship between Blossom and her friend Jane, and their relationship with Liza, Anna, Helena and David. The decades-old sculpture exhibit is now falling apart and being disassembled; however, the mystery of the stolen stone re-emerges.
One of the book’s strong suits is the delicate way it navigates the relationships in the story, and slowly unfurls the mysteries that connect people to one another. The way these truths slowly emerge is also mirrored in the steady reveal of the sculptures that take shape in the park. The story is held together by these mysteries that are gradually peeled away to showcase the truth.
At times, the symbolism in the novel can be a bit heavy-handed, as various aspects of the characters’ lives are quite literally tied to the art. This can also be said for the metaphors within the reoccurring dream that spans the novel.
Overall however, Stone Woman is unique in the way it occupies the Toronto art scene of the 60s, with references to Margaret Atwood and Joni Mitchell helping to capture the spirit of the era. Above all else, it’s a story about the kind of families we create for ourselves, and the strong bonds that can develop between women. It’s a book about the intersection of life and art, and the way we often see our lives in relation to the art around us.
Stone Woman is published by Guernica Editions.