THE TENT PEG by Aritha van Herk


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Canadian feminist van Herk (Judith) now uses her snappy, occasionally fevered prose to stake out the gritty details of a summer uranium-scouting expedition in the Yukon--which supplies the base for pretentious theme-weaving about ancient female primacies and goddess-ly potencies. The expedition of nine men and one girl--thin, spare, flat-chested J.L. has masqueraded as a man to be hired on as cook--sets up camp within a severe and beautiful landscape. And, in brief, overlapping narrations by expedition members, we learn how the men's lives are pierced by a new extra-masculine awareness. . . and how J.L. comes to ""hear the silence"": a summons from a Nature she's just beginning to understand. Each man brings to the camp fear, wonder, and even hatred of women--so, to J.L., they are eternally obtuse, glossy predators. She respects only MacKenzie, the party chief, a ""good man"" whose wife left him ten years ago. (""What did she really want?"") The others: geologist Thompson, mulling his love for dancer Katie, who won't marry him; assistant chief Jerome, a religious fanatic who sizzles with fury at a woman in camp; a frightened, homesick Englishman; a macho equipment man; a gentle pilot who has nightmares of crashing; a cameraman fascinated by ""the unearthly knowledge in J.L.'s eyes""; and an assistant who's into meditation (he declares that I.L. ""absorbs us through her skin, through the tips of her fingers""), J.L. cooks and jokes and coolly puts the men down--but there's a rage simmering. And her magical epiphanies mount--beginning with her silent colloquy with a huge she-bear (who reminds J.L. of her friend at home who sings ""old secrets,"" accompanied by a tribal drum, to ""men without ears"") and ending when she has fed, counseled, redeemed, and enlightened the men with hammered-home truths. (J.L.= Jael of Biblical hammering fame, you see.) Sturdily crafted--but, more so than Judith, pretty much overwhelmed by Message and Rhetoric.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0889953120
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row