JAZZY by Margaret Doerkson


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With some of the grim relentlessness of Ursula Holden's case histories--but with unselective verbiage instead of Holden's stark economy--Canadian first-novelist Doerkson follows the wayward late-1950s adventures of an amoral (yet fairly good-natured) teenage girl. ""Jazzy""--nÉe Leah Liard--grows up in desolate Winding Creek, Alberta, with abusive, Bible-thumping parents who rail against sin and oppose education for girls. So Jazzy, naturally, is rebellious at 15: sneaking smokes, sunbathing nude, and flirting with handsome young American oilman Keith--who introduces her to sex. . . which Jazzy finds merely painful. And when she sees a doctor, he recommends an operation and tells her that she'll never have children (the result of a riding injury--left untreated--at age ten). Worse yet, when Jazzy has the operation, the town is sure it was an abortion, Keith strays, and Jazzy figures she'd better hit the road. She heads for Edmonton to be a waitress, hitching a ride with a creepy, talkative con-man and paying her way with sex (""What difference did it make who she slept with, so long as he didn't have VD?""). But her job-seeking is a bust, so she moves on to Calgary--where (so she's heard) oilman Barry Storm will pay $350 a month for someone to help care for his retarded child. Storm also, unfortunately, has a miserable, paranoid wife--who puts Jazzy in the middle of the marital warfare. And Storm himself makes Jazzy (who's hardly reluctant) his accomplice in a land-buying scare, cheating the oil company of $30,000. Finally, then--after Jazzy has found something of a heroine in a local Indian nightclub-singer--the Storm triangle leads to tragedy; and Jazzy, turning down a proposal from reappearing lover Keith, swears off men and heads out on her own. A moderately interesting story--with a healthy lack of sentimentality and more than a few un-clichÉd time-and-place specifics. But Doerkson's flat prose is often awkward as it strains to describe feelings; the dialogue is mostly stiff (especially in discussions of religion and psychology); and Jazzy's character isn't vivid or appealing enough to put a grip on this admirably grainy but somewhat amateurish first novel.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Beaufort--dist. by Scribners