Leon Rooke John Mills - Essay

John Mills

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Leon Rooke] writes excellent and sometimes poetic prose—which is enough to disqualify him from popular acclaim; he is an experimentalist—which is enough to create suspicion among those who read fiction; and he is not entirely successful at it—which is enough to damn him among the critics. Personally I wish he would write more…. [In The Broad Back of the Angel, three] stories about a magician are experimental, and in my opinion they fail—there is a coy air of self-congratulation about them which brings to mind the fin de siecle affectations of The Yellow Book as does the title story and the frontispiece which illustrates it. Other than the Mexican pieces, "Wintering in Victoria" and "Iron Woman" seem to me to be the most successful. In the first an enraged woman leaves her husband taking their child with her. There seems, in the first few pages, every reason why she should do so—he is cold, hard, and cynical. As the story progresses, however, Rooke switches the reader's sympathies very cleverly. "Iron Woman" ought to interest feminists and be required reading for anyone who is not. It describes a nervous breakdown, and some of the revenge fantasies it generates very strikingly. It is here that Rooke's blending of the representational and the surreal works at its best.

John Mills, "Book Reviews & Review Articles: 'The Broad Back of the Angel'" (copyright by John Mills), in The Fiddlehead, No. 117, Spring, 1978, p. 127.