REVIEW: Beginning with the Mirror

Beginning with the Mirror
by Peter Dubé,
Lethe Press (2014)
Reviewed by Su J. Sokol

Peter Dubé’s latest book is a layered, nuanced work that engages both the intellect and the heart. Beginning with the Mirror consists of ten short pieces, but calling the book a collection of stories seems too haphazard a way of describing how these interstitial tales of love and desire fit together. Although the book is not linear, there is a definite progression from the first piece to the last, a progression that is perceived before it is fully comprehended.

The title of each piece, with the exception of “Funnel Cloud,” is a single word. There is a simple beauty to this, although the words themselves—Blazon, Egress, Corvidae—hint at depth and complexity. Dubé delivers this promise of depth by weaving together layers of meaning within the stories. For instance, “Blazon” speaks of the destructive power of unfulfilled desire, with fire serving as metaphor. At the same time, “Blazon” is a story about metaphor. The challenge is to see how these concepts connect. Moreover, each story reveals additional complexities to Dubé’s vision, forcing earlier ideas to realign themselves to a new whole. Reading this book is much like watching a visual artist add layers of paint, transforming not only the finished piece, but what you thought you’d glimpsed earlier.

Fortunately, this is not a painful process with Dubé’s beautiful prose to enjoy:
The absence of the sound of metal is everywhere. (“Foliage”)
A tall palm takes all of his light, draping him in feathering shadow. (“Echo”);
I watched as my fear raced to meet my fascination.(“Corvidae”)

Dubé acquaints us with pain as well as beauty. “Needle,” the most gritty and realistic of the stories, communicates an anguish mixed with regret that stays with the reader long after the tale is told. Yet, it also makes us feel more alive. In “Corvidae,” one of my favourites, longing and sadness is tempered with the possibility of transcendence. “Egress,” which recalls a key scene in Dubé’s novel,The City’s Gates, is another favourite for its social action theme. It describes a discouraging social reality while pointing to the “egress”—the title thus aiding with interpretation.

Beginning with the Mirror may not be for everyone, particularly those who prefer simple narrative plots. Even such readers may find it hard to resist these stories of desire and crossing between worlds, ideas that are communicated not just in the plot but in the lusciousness of the language, the loving detail with which the scenes are drawn, and the surrealism that flashes across the pages.

Dubé’s book is also about life. It begins with tales of fire, water, air, and earth then laces these stories with concepts of nature, human creation and existential truth, the physical and the transcendent, life and death. Through all this, Dubé’s characters are faced with choices, the same choices we all face: Whether and how much to feel, to love, to communicate. Whether to act and in so doing, to live.