By Sean Dixon. Coach House Books, 290 pp, $21.95, softcover
The members of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club have trouble drawing a line between reality and literature. It's not so much distinguishing fact from fiction; it's more a cause-and-effect confusion. What begins as a session on a mysterious text called He Who Saw Everything mutates into an all-involving quest spookily linked to the events unfolding in the story they're studying. And that book–actually 12 stone tablets of seemingly ancient origin–bears a growing similarity to The Epic of Gilgamesh, which worries narrators Jennifer and Danielle: "Don't say we didn't warn you. The Epic of Gilgamesh starts out as an adventure story about a hero and his friend, but then somebody dies and everything changes, and the hero goes on a long journey, in search of wisdom and the secret of eternal life. And the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club is nothing if not thorough."
Sure enough, on multiple and diverse levels our story dogs the Babylonian classic, though transposed to the key of Montreal, 2003. What makes Sean Dixon's first novel so electrifyingly smart and charming is its abundant passion. Danielle and Jennifer are ardent about documenting the club's implosion, and their self-conscious recording is charming, both hip and parenthetical: "When Dumuzi left, calling his blunt sayonara back to them like they were strangers, it hit home with forehead-slapping suddenness that there was not going to be any sex for Runner. No sex for Runner Coghill to drag her from the darkness into the light, from sickness into health, from death back into the life, from skittish youth to full-blooming maturity. It was unreasonable to have expected it, especially since (let's be honest) the boy had hardly ever even looked her in the eye. But still."
Runner, the protagonist, burns with passion–for literature, for her dead twin sister, and even for death itself (in no particular order). The club's belief in the transcendence of art brims with passion. They yearn, as all youth do, for proof of free will. They'd die for it.