RESTLESSNESS: ARITHA VAN HERK RED DEER COLLEGE PRESS, 193 PP.
Restlessness is not equal to agitation; a motionless person can be suffocating from restlessness. A person who flits from one lover to another may be restless; more likely they are simply callous. But a person who flits from city to city is truly possessed by a sense of restlessness.
Aritha van Herk has built her novel Restlessness around these ideas. The novel centres on Drocas, an international courier, who has chosen to end her life. She hires a professional killer, Derrick Atman, who meets her at the Palliser Hotel in Calgary. Together they spend a night preparing for her death.
During their evening, Dorcas confesses to Atman her love of Calgary as well as her inability to remain there for any length of rime. However, the real passion of the narration erupts in the centre of the novel when Dorcas describes Vienna. She speaks of a city "surrounded by ageless culture, elegance personified by the aristocratic length of people's fingers and the scars cut into the cheekbones of old men."
Vienna and its macabre underbelly come to life for a mere dozen pages.
Yet in contrast to the richness of this old world, Calgary is heartless, needing the winds of the Chinook to warm its cold centre. The main character seems to echo Calgary's coldness. Throughout the novel the reader is given little insight into Dorcas, an incredibly self-absorbed woman. Nor does the reader find a means to suspend disbelief. Dorcas runs into both her only close relative, her aunt Katje, and her doppelganger, a passionate red-haired woman. Neither meeting feels anything but contrived.
Restlessness is nor an easy novel. Van Herk is giving us less a story than an intellecutal journey between this place called Calgary and the cities where we might want to journey. In all of us who travel and return 'home,' there is the seed of restlessness, the desire for elsewhere, while we continue to look for where we belong.
Dorcas is sure that Calgary is her home. Knowing this, she is ready to end her life. Yet the reader can flip back to the passages of Dorcas' storytelling and wonder how any experience filled with such richness could lead her to abandon the journey itself.