Crossings, by Betty Lambert
Arsenal Pulp Press (2011)
Review by Kim McCullough
Crossings is a groundbreaking novel first published in 1979 and re-released in 2011 in celebration of Vancouver’s 125th anniversary. It is the story of bright, educated Vicky and her descent into a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.
After her marriage fails, Vicky meets Mik, an angry and bitter ex-con, and ventures into emotionally dark places where, at times, she teeters on the edge of sanity. Mik is a violent and manipulative man, the kind of man who displays pride at the tattoos over his nipples that read “Cream” and “Coffee” – the punch line coming when he’s asked, “Where’s the sugar?”
The novel is stunning in its scope, calling into question everything from a woman’s traditional place in the home and academia, to her role in the bedroom and in the workplace. Vicky’s relationship with Mik allows her to shuck the shackles of the expectations of her family and friends and dig deep to discover what she really wants, only to find that the violence and abuse she encounters is just another prison.
Vicky is far from the only one in Crossings struggling with lack of meaning in her life. Her bohemian friends, both male and female, spend their evenings drinking and talking, searching desperately for answers, for some kind of anchor. Many of them struggle with depression or alcoholism, or just plain unhappiness. Lambert doesn’t shy away from shining a harsh light on mental illness and its treatment at the time.
Crossings is a beautifully disjointed novel, flipping back and forth in time and place. Lambert is a masterful manipulator of time shifts and narrative flow. Characters are introduced mid-stream, as if Vicky is speaking to the reader over a cup of coffee, or as though the reader is a stand-in for a therapist or a psychologist. Verb tenses often switch mid-sentence, which adds to the dreamy-memory quality of Vicky’s story. This convention has the effect of drawing the reader even deeper into the fractured state of Vicky’s mind as she tries to first understand, then move on from Mik, and claw her way back to health and self-respect.
Lambert’s characters are engaging, realistic and flawed. As Vicky is drawn into Mick’s violent world, she begins to question even the stable parts of her life. At times, she is unsure what is real and what is imagined. Lambert is brilliant at pulling the reader through the same emotions Vicky experiences.
It’s easy to see why Crossings was one of ten chosen to celebrate Vancouver’s 125th anniversary. It showcases the city as it was in the 1960s and 1970s; it’s a rougher Vancouver, but no less beautiful, in its way, than today’s meticulously landscaped, glass-and-steel-studded showplace.
Crossings provides a rare and beautifully written glimpse into a time when women fought to have their voices heard. Like Vicky, they stumbled and made mistakes, oftentimes backsliding into the expectations and roles expected of them. Women today can still relate to this struggle. Crossings is as relevant a work of feminist fiction today as it was thirty years ago.