|The nature of evil
Opening the floodgates to Gods kingdom
"Evil, be thou my Good." So speaks Satan in Book 4 of Miltons "Paradise Lost." The epic sacred poem of 1667 suggests that Gods kingdom may not be of this world, or that if it is, the hounds of hell snap at its gates. Now a bold new voice in Canadian fiction sounds horrors of a similar stripe. Kelly Watt has penned Mad Dog, a debut novel remarkable as much for its manner as its matter if its form flows, its content terrifies.
The story begins innocently enough. Sheryl-Anne MacRae is a pretty girl of 14, living on her familys apple farm in southwestern Ontario in 1964. Her enigmatic uncle Fergus brings home Peter Angelo, a young hitchhiker bearing more than a passing resemblance to James Dean. Sheryl is smitten, but the object of her desire desires a different object he is enthralled with Fergus and his mysticism, one infused with 1960s pop culture, legend and apocalyptic visions. Peter is seduced by an existence both profane and profound. Amid alcohol and drugs, bonfires and orgies, he loses his soul to the maniacal Fergus. Divinity and morality, reality and depravity build to an ominous, revelatory climax both gritty and ghastly.
"Its meant to be a descent into Hell I was thinking of Dante in the end," says Watt, her blond tresses and joyous eyes contrasting marvelously with her subject. "The Utopian concept, that here could be an organization of people with lofty spiritual ideals, is very attractive. The tragedy of most of them is that, over time, they become corrupted."
Watt knows whereof she speaks. She has read extensively on Christian and religious subjects, and her interest in things spiritual is long-running, stemming from a Grade 12 education in India at an American missionary school, and her stint at a monastery in Nepal where she became a Buddhist.
"I based Ferguss philosophy on a real cult called the Process that existed in 1963-64 in Canada and the States. The Process started in England as a psychotherapy cult. They were essentially well-brought up hippie kids, into the human potential movement, and they decided to delve into spirituality. They created their own archetypes, blending Christianity with paganism, the idea being to achieve a balance between light and dark. In the end they became licentious people were attracted to darker elements, and eventually the sect fell apart."
Moral relativism, then, is significant in Watts Mad Dog, an allegory that asserts that in every good exists an evil, in every evil a good. Its young protagonist is beset by phantasms, dreams of a perverse and persuasive quality each time she dreams of black water, for instance, she is convinced "something bad is going to happen." If her beloved Peter becomes a Christ-like figure, Sheryl-Anne becomes a messenger, not to the outside world, but for her own personal revelations. All this religiosity and mysticism, set in the 60s, begs the question of relevance for the present age.
"I do think its relevant," says Watt. "We live in a turbulent time in which many things are possible. Ferguss prophecy is apocalyptic but ironic, because we know the world did not end. But many of these prophecies still exist and some believe these things will happen.
"We have a huge generation of young people, much like in the 60s, only larger theyre well-brought up, economically secure, and often they protest globalization. There is a return to religious experimentation and paganism, reactions to conservatism, and a concern for nature. Some people exploit these realities for unkind ends."
Watt sits comfortably in her chair, but leans forward slightly, clearly enraptured with her subject. It is clear, too, she is passionate about writing itself, citing her main influences with a gleaming eye: Timothy Findley, Milton, Cormac McCarthy. Having taken nine years to complete Mad Dog, she smiles when she says, "It feels as if the floodgates are open." If her debut is any indication, reactions to her second work should be as extreme as they were to this one as polar as good and evil.