Dancing in the Dark
Patricia Morley is a professor of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University, an associate fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir
Institute, and author of Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home.
Joan Barfoot grew up in Owen Sound and is now a reporter with the London Free Press. Her award-winning first novel, Abra (1978), was published in the United States, Britain, Germany, and Canada.
“A literary tour de force”: how often do we believe dust-jacket copy? In this case, we should. Barfoot’s second novel is sensitive and strong. Her insights into women’s lives and male-female relationships make Dancing a powerful feminist statement, imaginative rather than didactic.
Dancing in the Dark is the story of a 43-year-old woman in a mental hospital who spends her days writing. Edna’s endless notebooks examine her life, her twenty years of married “bliss,” and her murder of her husband on the day she discovers his infidelity. Where did she go wrong? Edna asks. What spot did she leave uncleaned, what task undone? There must have been some flaw which will explain the disaster. Edna is as obsessive in her search for her one small failure as she has been, for 20 years, in running her house.
Barfoot’s command of detail is superb. The details of housework are used to reveal Edna’s interior and the culture that helped to create her.
We see her rage, her impotence, and her fear. Beneath middle class security and comfort lurks the maelstrom. There is method in the madness of Dancing’s protagonist, and wisdom in this cautionary tale for the times.