Bookside Table reviews Monoceros

By Emily M. Keeler
Bookside Table blog
June 28 2011

"The Unicorns Are Coming."

As you can probably guess from the title, and the immensely enjoyable book trailer, Monoceros has something to do with Unicorns. And it does. But that something, the something that Suzette Mayr is doing with Unicorns, has nothing to do with meme culture, with juvenalia, or with twee. Instead, Mayr's talking about anatomically correct Unicorns. These are desirous and righteous beasts, and they rampage through the novel with all of the swagger and anxiety of adolescent libido.

The novel begins with the end of a young man's life: Patrick Furey hangs himself after being tormented, threatened, and encountering the unendurable pain of having his small world refuse to recognize in him the complicated and shimmering dignity of his personhood. As a gay teen enrolled in a Catholic high school in Calgary, Furey is victimized by his immediate environment, and the opening chapter of Monoceros paints his portrait with a delicate hand, even as the character launches himself right out of frame.

The rest of the novel takes the real shape of human life. Mayr decentres the story of the cruelties and injustices that battered Patrick, and instead explores the community at the margins of this tragedy. Classmates who never knew him, his secret lover, the girl with the history of assaulting him, his teacher, his principal, his guidance councilor … By engaging with so many voices Mayr has managed to diffuse the isolation and immobilization of the trauma of teen suicide and homophobia and create a space for empathy, intimacy, and even comedy. Monoceros evinces the kind of comedy that brings you closer, the kind of comedy that reminds you of the way that a great story deftly told is an invitation to commune with that which makes us our most human, our frailty, and, of course and always, our dignity.

Mayr manages to collage together these voices, these characters, as proof that life is more complicated than our over-determinations of each other. Faraday, a young woman obsessed with unicorns as an article of her faith in eventually escaping the prison of adolescence, and Walter, the sweet gay guidance councilor who is still looking for his own guide in life, are particularly heart breaking characters. Mayr has written them honestly and truthfully enough that you simultaneously feel like hugging and smacking them. The voices that make up this unwitting community are evidence that people and circumstances are the tectonic plates shifting deep beneath our conscious lives, unaware that at any moment there could be a fissure. At almost any moment, there could be a tragedy. But then again, at any moment, there could be a unicorn.

Related Content
Related Contributors: 
Related Titles: