This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

March-April 2011

Book review: Subject to Change by Renee Rodin

Navneet AlangWebsite

Cover of Renee Rodin's 'Subject to Change' from TalonbooksMemory, for good and bad, is crystalline: fragile, delicate, and with a tendency to distort. But in Subject to Change, it is like a crystal held at just the right angle, revealing some startling moments of clarity and beauty.

Surveying a life of writing, motherhood, and activism, Renee Rodin’s prose is both understated and unflinching. When grappling with heartbreaking grief at her father’s cancer or a horrific encounter with violence, there are no grand pronouncements about life—only pain and the recognition that it doesn’t go away, but simply takes on more subtle textures over time.

The collection is also full of the whimsy and fire that follow those who abandon themselves to art and activism: the charmingly blasé way Rodin ran famous Vancouver bookstore R2B2 Books, or the time she ran into former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell and chose to lean in and hiss, “You’re bordering on fascism.”

Not all of it works. Some stories, like “Neighbourhood,” veer too far toward abstract tableau, and the rhetorical excesses of ’60s and ’70s leftism flicker when neighbours who cut down a tree are labelled “Imperialists!”

Rodin ends with an inversion of Hemingway’s famous six-word short story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”). She lists the 31 (and counting) people who have used a wicker basket Rodin herself carried her children in. The piece is titled “Wealth,” as if a life spent writing and struggling for social justice—and extending the fruits of those lessons to others—affords one just that.

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