- Discrepant Parallels: Cultural Implications of the Canada–US Border by Gillian Roberts
Gillian Roberts's book approaches Canadian literature from a new and innovative perspective, focusing on writers' depictions of the Canada–US border from 1980 to 2015. The study is well grounded in literary theory, recent Canadian history, and contemporary politics; as such, it provides readers with comprehensive and multifaceted interpretations of texts. Previous studies have discussed the US–Mexico border as it is represented in American literature; this book is the first full-length study to address Canadian writers' [End Page 269] conceptions of the border at the forty-ninth parallel. Discrepant Parallels shows how many Canadian writers invoke and challenge the cultural and symbolic meanings of the Canada–US border, and how they do so in diverse ways. Roberts draws upon Kant's and Derrida's notions of 'hospitality' to examine how writers contest assumptions regarding national and cultural identities. She considers the portrayal of these identities as they are played out at the Canada–US border.
The chapters of the book are organized to consider texts' different approaches to the border. The first chapter analyses travel literature in relation to the Canada–US Free Trade Agreement (1989) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (1994), paying particular attention to power imbalances at the border, and how poet David W. McFadden both plays into and challenges ideas of hospitality and neighbourliness. The second chapter focuses on television dramas such as Due South and analyses depictions of Canadian law enforcement symbolized by the figure of the 'Mountie', or RCMP. The third chapter considers Indigenous literature by such writers as Jeanette Armstrong, Thomas King, and Drew Hayden Taylor. Roberts makes a persuasive argument that, ironically, the nation-state performs as though it is 'host' to Indigenous peoples–'cast[ing] Indigenous people as "foreign" in their own territories' (p. 113). The fourth chapter considers African Canadian literature and challenges the dominant perception of Canada as a haven for those seeking refuge. Roberts considers writers such as Lawrence Hill, Djanet Sears, and Wayde Compton, and explains how they '[remind] us of the violent work the nationstate is capable of carrying out both at its threshold and within' (p. 190). The final chapter broadens the study's scope by examining Canadian literary texts–such as Jane Urquhart's Sanctuary Line–that address the borders between Canada, the US, and Mexico.
Roberts's analyses of literary texts are nuanced, thorough, and exemplary. The strength of the book lies in the author's depiction of how these literary works vary in their conceptions of the border and the ways identities are configured and contested there. The book considers a good range of texts that highlight pertinent issues, from the fluidity of identities, to the cultural economies of border crossings, to the ways in which literature intersects with and often seeks to correct dominant narratives. Recent political events–such as a change of government in both Canada and the US–will carry border studies in new directions. Therefore, this book is particularly important now and will continue to be in the months and years to come.