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by Monique Proulx
Translated from the French by David Homel and Fred A. Reed
Reviewed by C. Lariviere

Monique Proulx's narrative is saturated with a gorgeous combination of words and images making up foliage as dense as a Canadian forest. Ants and mosquitoes bite at her prose while wild mushrooms tempt the reader's emotions, but not without their hidden poisons. Entering her novel is like "heading darkly into a wall of dense trees, plunging into devious vegetable entrails from which one would most likely emerge half digested".

Proulx treats us with a multitude of characters full of complexities, whose lives intertwine around an un-commercialized lake in Canada's backyard. As the peace and quiet of a summer day unravels, so do the characters. All carry their own secrets: Lila, the protective land owner; Jeremie, the little boy who tramples his way through the forest; Claire, the script writer plotting murder scenes; Violette, the emotionally troubled girl who looks for solace.

It is difficult to avoid getting caught up in these characters' lives, but the true genius of the book is its environment. Nothing is more deceptive than a glistening lake in June, with occasional ripples from a kayak paddling through the water or from the lapping tongue of a deer. While Claire struggles with the Celestial Squirrel who steals seeds from the birdfeeders, Lila and Jeremie develop a kindred relationship when she finds him wreaking havoc on an ant colony. Simon finds solace in the cool ripples of the lake as the women in his life stand by their cabins, each wondering if he'll stop by her deck. Just like Jeremie's captive caterpillar, we tear through the pages of the novel, eating up every leaf fed to us. We sit and wait as the characters fatten up with secrets and emotions, forming a cocoon, but never realize their potential as a butterfly. Just as the cocoon dries up in the jar, the characters come back to reality as the summer ends and a cool September rears its head.

Every fern, mushroom and toad finds its place in this fanciful novel on how one life can be so affected by a seemingly inconspicuous lake on a warm Canadian summer day. And just like the raspberry field that Claire encounters, Proulx's Wildlives is a real treat.