Leon Rooke Jerry Wasserman - Essay

Jerry Wasserman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon Rooke's Cry Evil is mostly unremitting in its sense of life as nasty and brutish. His stories are stocked with characters who, if they aren't mad or paranoid or perverse, are victims of the madness, paranoia, or perversity of others. Rooke tempers all this with hard-edged, self-conscious black humour, and even allows a few tentative affirmations…. With rare exceptions, though, the cry "evil" finds only further echoes in the labyrinth of the self. (p. 106)

[This collection is distinguished by Rooke's] intelligence, versatility, and craftsmanship. The stories in Cry Evil are … [baroque and make great] demands on the reader, echoing Barth and Borges, Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Poe. They are not recommended for chronic depressives. In theme and mood there is a dark sameness about them that is almost claustrophobic. However, the very extremity of Rooke's gloomy vision somewhat undermines its seriousness. With what seems like an authorial wink, he has the nagging wife of the writer-protagonist in his opening story, "The Deacon's Tale," complain of his work: "It won't make any of us feel any better. It won't make anyone want to rejoice that they are alive. So what if people like your ugly hero do exist, you think that's any excuse?" (p. 108)

Jerry Wasserman, "Fantasy Lives" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Canadian Literature, No. 91, Winter, 1981, pp. 106-09.∗