|The story of Brother, XII (the comma signifying the "great brother" speaking through him) is one of the most bizarre in Canadian history. To have such a charismatic cult leader in our own backyard seems too
American to be true. Yet it was and until it fell apart, the Vancouver Island cults masochistic shadiness held a tight grip on its group of acolytes.
The Brother left behind writings, from which a shadowy figure emerges Madame Zee. Nothing much is known of Zee (Mabel Rowbotham) other than she was the Brothers mistress, was said to have clairvoyant powers, and enjoyed whipping cult members with a riding crop.
But who really was Madame Zee? One day, after watching a documentary on the history of the cult, it was a question that author Pearl Luke wanted to answer.
Madame Zee, Lukes sophomore novel, is a leap stylistically from her acclaimed debut, Burning Ground, six years ago. The much-anticipated new novel took Luke on a historical hunt, gathering details of the period and experimenting with the voice and language.
Lukes portrait of Zee is one of heartbreak, anger and the supernatural. "I think she was such an oddball," she says. "The documentary presented her as just beating on people one historian interviewed had a very chauvinistic glee with how cruel she was. When I looked into it, that wasnt enough to base a whole reputation on."
Despite the wealth of material on the Brother, she chose to focus on Zee instead. "Its very sensationalized cult stuff, sex slaves," she says. "I didnt want to write his story, but used the history as a backdrop." How does Luke view him after writing the novel? "Im thinking he must have gone mad. Either he was doing cocaine, or had syphilis or Alzheimers. Did he believe he was the messiah, or was he a con artist?"
Zees story might be imagined, but Luke delicately prepares her, with enough tangible details to give the other sides of the history a sense of universal pain. Such a person isnt created in a vacuum.
"I wanted to create a whole history for her," says Luke. "She was a stick figure in history." As well, for the purpose of the story, Luke takes Zees clairvoyant powers for the truth. "I think some people are born with very strong intuitions," she says. "I dont know what the explanations are, but there are other ways of knowing. Still, I dont think its fed to us from the other side."
Pearl Luke reads at Pages on Kensington on Friday, June 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Owls Nest Bookstore is hosting Wine and Words, a fundraiser in support of the Dave Greber Freelance Writers award, which will be given this September. The event starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 8.
Celebrate National Crime Writers Week at McNally Robinson on June 7 at 7 p.m., with readings from Canadian genre writers Jayne Barnard, Eileen Coughlan (Grizzly Lies), Anne Metikosh (Undercurrent), Lorna Schultz-Nicholson (See Fox Run) and Steve Owad (Bodycheck).
On Thursday, June 8 at 7 p.m. at McNally, filling Station hosts its next Flywheel Reading Series, with readings from Michael Boyce, Samuel Garrigo Meza, Mark Hopkins and Neil Scott.
For an early teaser, WordFest has announced two authors coming to the festival this fall Canmore author Hazel Hutchins (The Sidewalk Rescue, the TJ series) and wildly popular Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Festival passes are available now for WordFest, which runs October 10-15, 2006. The full festival lineup will be announced on September 6.
Biographer and ex-Edmontonian Stacy Schiff won the second annual George Washington Book Prize for her latest work, A Great Improvisation, on the life of Ben Franklin. The Pulitzer Award-winning author nets $50,000 for the award.
Oprahs cultural hegemony metastasizes once again with her recently announced book deal (on weight loss) with Simon & Schuster. The amount is undisclosed, but said to far outweigh the fee paid to Bill Clinton for his memoir, which paid out a record $12 million.