So Much Love is an exquisitely crafted book. It is the story of a twentysomething mature student, Catherine, a lover of books who finds her life patterned after the creative and tragic story of a local poet who was killed just as her first collection was about to be published. The wispy threads of connection between the reader and the poet become hard knots when Catherine is taken at night. Her captor, whose character never quite comes into focus, keeps Catherine in darkness, using her for his frayed desires until she is in danger of wasting away. When the other victim she shares the darkness and pain with dies, all Catherine has left are memories of her loving husband and the poems of the local poet—a woman also lost to male violence.
Where Hollywood has to end a story, Rosenblum has the courage to begin, so that the question is not simply “will Catherine be rescued,” but “how much of Catherine was taken?” While the diction of So Much Love is free and open and varied, it remains a difficult book to read. Like Michael Crummey’s fiction, though less local and with more distinctive colour-patterns in the fabric, Rosenblum gives the reader no quarter for escape. The warp and weft of intensity and distance keep the reader near to the text and knitted to the protagonist’s story.
This connection with Catherine is all the more striking because of Rosenblum’s sophisticated experiment with voice, perspective, and time. We do not get the inside of Catherine’s experience for most of the novel, and when we do, she is herself tired of the constant inner monologue of fear and rage. There are many voices and points of view in the novel—not a patchwork quilt, but a pattern that moves in and out of the centre.
While the voice is sometimes more successful than the experimental point of view—and Rosenblum really can give distinctive textures to her characters’ lives—the entire, intricate, multi-linear narrative structure works to create intimacy with the characters—something that many of the postmodern authors failed to invite in me. Though the seams between the stories sometimes feel mismatched at times—though I believe the novel is designed to require something of the reader—the character life of So Much Love neither disappears into a monochromatic haze nor pixelates into meaninglessness.
Discerning what So Much Love means is more difficult for me than describing the literary quality and structure of the book. I can’t help making the parallel with Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, which one of the characters reads for her high school English class. While Ivan Ilych is itself an experiment in writing about the inner life, there is a nearly linear nature to its interiority. It offers a question—what can this life of beauty and suffering possibly mean?—and an answer, I believe. Our generation cannot abide by answers to questions in fiction, but we seem to be yearning for action. To that extent, So Much Love asks Tolstoy’s question, but says in response: one must live. For all the violence and fear and sadness, there does seem to me to be an invitation to life here.
This beautifully designed novel by Canadian short story writer Rebecca Rosenblum is a startling literary discovery. So Much Love is less Doris Lessing and more Vincent Lam. What makes So Much Love a more effective novel than the latter’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures is not merely Rosenblum’s pattern-master ability to weave together short stories into a single novel. Rosenblum creates a tight emotional connection with characters—not just the good ones or the suffering ones, but also the characters who are insipid or horrifying. As it sat on my bedside table, I never loved the title, So Much Love, Yet, it captures with literary depth the complex material of life.