In her opening lines, the host of Monday evening's closing event, Carleton University's Susan Birkwood interpreted the title "Just between us" as suggestive of intimacy, confidentiality, and exclusivity. In a way, she was right for mulling over the themes of identity, selfhood, and belonging is inherently a very personal, intimate affair. Nevertheless, the atmosphere the three exceptional authors thoughtfully guided by Susan created for their attentive audience was one of openness, inclusion, and curiosity.
Prefaced by authors' readings of their respective novels, the pensive discussion that ensued left me wondering: Who am I? Am I truly one of a kind? These are fundamental questions that, to a certain extent, each of the three books' main protagonists are grappling with. Inevitably, family bonds and the relationship we have with those closest to us shape and define who we become and what kind of a relationship we build with ourselves. By offering us a sneak peak into their most recent literary works, Terry, Eliza, and Michael showed us that twins, whether real or imaginary, could irreversibly disrupt the status quo of our state of mind.
In the case of Terry Fallis' newest book, One Brother Shy, unexpected reunification with an estranged twin brother pushes Alex MacAskill further outside of his comfort zone than he'd ever imagined and awakens in him a whole new world of possibilities, a side of his identity he had never knew existed. The idea of twinning is prevalent, albeit more metaphorically, in Eliza Robertson's Demi Gods, which explores a complex and mystery-infused relationship between a stepbrother, Patrick, and stepsister, Willa, mirrored against their two other siblings. Michael Redhill in Bellevue Square creates a masterfully crafted female character, Jean, whose sense of self and personal sovereignty are questioned and threatened when she is alerted to the prospect of sharing the world with a doppelgänger.
The past is ever present; it remains engraved in our personality's coat of arms; what's more, it is a red dot that flickers like a lighthouse in the night, alerting us to that which has remained unresolved and misunderstood. Ultimately, it accentuates the three protagonists' present difficulties as they confront their other I's. Alex MacAskill is haunted by the memories of a vicious bullying incident; Jean must learn to live with post partum depression; and Patrick has a dark, controlling, manipulative streak that affects his behaviour towards Willa.
Visibility is both helpful and oppressive at the same time. Surveillance is watching the other, observing oneself, and defining the self. In the end, it is up to us how much of ourselves we let on, what we choose to reveal to the outside world. Or is it? For there are instances, such as those in which Alex, Patrick, Willa, and Jean find themselves that have the power to crack through the thick surface of our identities and transform our worlds, our status quos.
Monday evening's exceptionally well-curated and free-flowing conversation between three Canadian authors who are as eloquent in person as they are on paper took us on an exploratory literary journey of the deep and complex self, interwoven with moments of genuine humour and authenticity. The latter is a simple equation consisting of just the right amount of details and corkiness (T. Fallis) and little examples from your everyday life, including habits, quirks, or pet peeves (E.R.). After all, it rings true that being authentic is being yourself.