Mary Mabel McTavish was a small-town girl down on her luck until, quite accidently, she resurrected the dead. Seemingly under the guidance of her dead mother, Mary Mabel laid her hands on a probably-dead boy and brought him back to life. This miracle sweeps her out of the Canadian countryside into the United States and all the way to Hollywood. On her way to stardom, Mary Mabel meets an unsavory cast of characters who, under the pretense of spreading God’s miracle, all want a piece of her growing fame. Set in the 1930s, this novel benefits from the weird, unexpected charms of old Hollywood, yellow journalism, and the Great Depression.
The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish really caught me off guard. It was hilarious, dirty in the best way possible, and satisfyingly critical of the hypocrisies of religion, government, and society in general. Stratton drew weird comparisons between the spheres of religion, media/journalism, and Hollywood, assuring us that everything is just a matter of commerce and advertising. This is dangerous ground, as any argument on these subjects can turn sophomoric and cliché, but, Stratton handles it all with subtle and smart humor coupled with immense writing skill.
I am having a hard time explaining why I appreciated this book so much. I think perhaps it was the perfect balance of vulgarity, slapstick humor, nostalgia, social criticism, and darkness. The only thing I can really compare it to is Catch-22, and that’s not really a good comparison. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a damn smart book.
I have to admit that this book did take a while to get going, but the second half of the novel really flies by and makes all of the confusion and tone-building of the first few chapters worth it. I had some trouble differentiating between some of the characters (there were lots and lots of characters). My main issue was that until one of the characters underwent a grotesque physical and mental change, I couldn’t keep Percy and Floyd straight.
However, the wide array of characters ends up being a benefit. The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish is a subversive freakshow that managed to both distress and delight me.
Buy this book April 7th, 2014 in print or ebook format from Dundurn.