Ann-Marie MacDonald Biography
Nationality: Canadian. Born: 1958. Education: National Theatre School. Career: Actress; playwright and novelist; host, Life and Times (CBC-TV), Toronto. Lives in Toronto, Canada. Awards: Gemini Award; Governor General's award; Chalmers award; Canadian Authors Association award; Commonwealth prize; Best First Book award.
Fall on Your Knees. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
The Day the Men Went to Town: 16 Stories by Women from Cape Breton (contributor), selected by Ronald Caplan. Wreck Cove, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Books, 1999.
Goodnight Desdemona (Good Night Juliet). Toronto, Nightwood Theatre, 1988; Toronto, Coach House Press, 1990; New York, Grove Press, 1998.
The Arab's Mouth. Toronto, Factory Theatre, 1990; Winnipeg, Manitoba, Blizzard Publishing, 1995.
Negredo Hotel. Toronto, Tarragon Theatre, 1992.
Anything That Moves. Toronto, Canadian Stage, 2000.
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Ann-Marie MacDonald has worked as an actor, director, producer, playwright, and novelist. It is in the last role, however, that she has garnered the most critical and popular acclaim. When her debut novel, Fall on Your Knees, was published it received such flattering praise as: "so assured is the style, so intricate the plotting, and so accomplished the portrait of the four unforgettable Piper sisters, one would expect that the author was a seasoned novelist" and "Not since Newfoundland poet E.J. Pratt's epic poem, 'Brebuff and his Brethen,' have we seen Canadian Literature writ so large and wide, and with such energy, passion, and nerve." While the merit of Pratt's poem has been called into question, the elegance of MacDonald's first novel is not often in debate. Perhaps what makes the novel stand out is its curious mixture of dramatic tableaux, detailed characterization, and musical language. In fact, her training in the theater is perhaps most evident in MacDonald's use of language and dialogue. The naturalness of the conversations between lovers, neighbors, and sisters creates a believable backdrop for the sometimes horrific events in the novel. For all its theatricality, the novel is anything but a lightweight romp through the Canadian maritimes. The story of four sisters growing up in industrial Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, swirls through incidents of racism, incest, social exploitation, class conflict, and religious intolerance. These are balanced with moments of intense love, humor, and sacrifice.
Fall on Your Knees exemplifies what Njabulo Ndebele has called, in another context, the need for the "rediscovery of the ordinary." His point is that spectacular events have lost their shock value, because they have become accepted as ordinary. In order to reject the spectacular and show it as extraordinary, it is necessary to reinscribe the ordinary. MacDonald's novel progresses through a series of ordinary events in order to highlight the horrors and passions of the spectacular events with which they are juxtaposed. In this manner she shows the prejudices of the Catholic church, the seediness of nightclubs, the anger of fathers, the excitement of music, and the love of sisters.
The novel differs sharply from her first solo-written play, Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), which is a comedy about a mousy lecturer in Renaissance drama who is trying to decipher a coded manuscript for what she believes to be the lost manuscripts for Romeo and Juliet and Othello. She travels through a time warp into both plays in order to search for a Fool/Author to give her the key to the plays. Instead, however, she meets Desdemona and Juliet and discovers that Desdemona is violent and bloodthirsty, and Juliet is in love with the romance of love and death, rather than with Romeo. MacDonald cleverly weaves dialogue from Shakespeare's plays into her own play's dialogue, with a few key substitutions, for comic results. The first director of the play notes in her introduction that the story is a journey into the "zone of the unconscious mind" where Desdemona and Juliet represent elements of the lecturer's psyche. While the sardonic use of humor links the play to MacDonald's first novel, the novel goes far beyond the play in interrogating the depths of the individual characters' minds and relationships with others. That said, the novel does not read as a Jungian exploration of the sisters' collective unconscious. Indeed, one of the characters, Frances, is described as a "sealed letter. It doesn't matter where she's been or who's pawed her, no one gets to handle the contents no matter how grimy the envelope. And it's for sure no one's going to be able to steam her open" (293). The reader's role in Fall on Your Knees is to follow the narrative's developments as if putting an envelope up to a light. We can't be certain what the letter inside says, but we can see the writing inside, at first opaquely and then gradually with increased clarity, as scrutiny is increased. By the end of the investigation we are certainly rewarded for our persistence.
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