A writer moves from an unfulfilling marriage into a violent relationship with a thuggish, though strangely charming ex-con. Crossings, Betty Lambert’s first and only novel, is a chaotic storm of hypnotic, raw prose that conjures striking imagery. This novel, a highly controversial piece upon release, does not shy away from difficult subjects, and focuses in on Vicky, a brilliant and talented writer, who seems intent on self-destruction.
Crossings is all about its characters, the lies they tell themselves to get by, and the darkness that resides in their hearts. The book takes place during the 1960’s in Vancouver and follows one woman’s struggles. Vicky, a talented and successful writer, is from a poor family, and has never been able to work through the emotional fallout of her rough childhood. She marries Ben, an artist several years older than her. On the outside their marriage appears idyllic, both of them talking about respecting each others wishes and free love, but their mutual emotional manipulation drives them apart. After her divorce, Vicky moves on, and begins a relationship with Mik, an ex-con with a violent streak. Vicky, hell bent on destroying herself, is unable to resist his strange charms. The novel takes place over several years, and we are transported back and forth through time, pulled along by Vicky’s dictation of her memories.
Admittedly, Crossings was not an easy novel for me to get in to. It is written as a stream of consciousness and at first, this disjointed writing feels alien, but soon I was pulled in right beside Vicky, caught in her chaos. The writing follows her thought patterns: sentences hang in the air unfinished, and Vicky forgets certain words (i.e. we never learn the pet name that Mik calls her, as she cannot remember it). Even more interesting is that details from her past are revealed, and then revised later in the book; Vicky’s faulty memory at work, filling in the blanks and changing up the story.
Vicky is a striking and complicated character. She is incredibly vulnerable, suffering from a low sense of self worth, and protects herself by cruelly lashing out at those around her. She does this so much that eventually she doesn’t have many friends left, her actions having pushed aside her family, schoolmates and colleagues. She goes to therapy and admits that she is broken, but she fears being fixed. She tells her therapist her belief that if she is tampered with, her writing will never be the same and she will lose the source of her art. Vicky suffers for her writing. Her misery stems from harsh circumstances that are often self-imposed. Vicky’s relationship with the emotionally abusive Mik seems to be just that, fuel to feed her self-immolating spiritual fire. It’s a testament to Lambert’s talent that she is somehow able to make brutish Mik a sympathetic character, despite the horrifying things he does. Just like Vicky he is damaged, but rather than turning his hatred inwards like her, he lashes out in anger. Mik never quite believes the destruction his actions cause, and Vicky, for the longest time, refuses to see just how dangerous he is.
This is not the kind of book you pick up to read if you want to feel comforted. Crossings is dark, sad, and yet strangely exciting. Lambert is a strong writer, taking her readers into the depths of someone else’s own personal hell. I am not one to shock easily, but Lambert’s cutting descriptions had me gasping out loud several times during this tumultuous read. Not for the faint of heart, this novel sheds a light on the darkness hidden within.