Leon Rooke Barbara Wade - Essay

Barbara Wade

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To give us such a clear understanding of the lives of the poor and the disaffected, western writer Leon Rooke must have spent a lifetime soaking up their mannerisms, their conversations, and learning to hear their private voices of disappointment and discontent. The result, in Death Suite, is a carefully crafted collection of tactile, poetic prose.

The book opens with "Mama Tuddi Done Over," the longest story in the collection and an introduction both to the monologue style and to Rooke's spirit-world. (p. 75)

The choice of "Mama Tuddi Done Over" as the introductory story to Death Suite is a wise one, for the succeeding stories contain echoes of its eerie tone and its acute sense of language in the way one individual may use it. (p. 76)

Rooke seems best suited to describing the darker side of love relationships, as he does in "Winter Is Lovely, Isn't Summer Hell," "Lady Godiva's Horse," "Standing In for Nita," and "Hanging Out with the Magi." What these stories have in common is that none of them are healthy, based as they are on neurotic, childish needs; and all of them are interesting. (pp. 76-7)

There is in Death Suite a three-part story called "Murder Mystery," subdivided into "The Rocker Operation," "Do Something" and "The Strip." These compositions come the closest to reminding us of the death suite that is the book's title. We are taken from the scene of a murder, to the police precinct, to the house of a woman who is clearly one of the principals involved in the murder. It is the standard progression of scenes for a murder mystery, so, like true murder mystery readers, we expect it to be solved. We are, however, cleverly set up. The story is simply another medium for Rooke's exploration, through Death Suite, of how much gets thought, gets worried about, gets talked about, but how little gets done. (p. 77)

[The] spirit-world is Death Suite's true domain, and it can be either constrictive or liberating, as it is in the final story, "The Problem Shop." This story of a downcast man's mysterious voyage out to sea is the only vaguely optimistic story in the collection. Rooke is perhaps ambivalent about the potential of the human imagination, but his understanding of it makes for a thoughtful, careful read. (pp. 77-8)

Barbara Wade, "Recourses of the Troubled Mind," in WAVES (© WAVES), Vol. 10, No. 3, Winter, 1982, pp. 75-8.