Thematic convergence was far from my mind when Frank Davey's nearly-instant book, Karla's Web: A Cultural Investigation of the Mahaffy-French Murders (Viking), appeared in the office. For one thing, it came in a wrapper announcing it to be a copy of a special Blackout Edition containing passages blacked out to respect the ban on publication of evidence issued by the judge at the trial of Karla Homolka, and still in effect during the Paul (Bernardo) Teale trial. Of course I opened the book immediately, and sure enough, there were plenty of pages with plenty of blacked-out sections. And inside the jacket there was a postcard to be sent in to the publisher (postage not supplied) should you want to get the blacked-out passages in un-blacked-out form when the ban is lifted. I held the book, the wrapper and the card in my hands and felt all the worst of the old puerile propensities (as Sam Johnson might have put it) flooding into consciousness: I flipped hastily through the volume, looking for photographs; there was no question about it: this book was bringing out the worst in me. There remained still the abstruse question: what was a postmodernist literary critic like Frank Davey doing with the messy and apparently non-literary subjects of rape and murder? I put the book in my bag (did anyone see?) without a second thought. So when I began reading the book and discovered that Davey was not in fact writing up just another crime-story of the decade, I was understandably relieved, if secretly disappointed. I read half the book that night and the other half in public, on a bus, the next day (it was a long ride): and I could hardly put it down. For in this book, Davey gets close to the dark processes of demonizing and monster-making that one presumes not to be part of the late-20th century Western imagination. By telling the story of how the story of the Mahaffy-French murders was itself told to us and how we retold it among ourselves and how the story was modulated through a series of Gothic changes by the police and the media, he leads us at one level to make a personal reckoning with the demons inside each of us, and at another to make a social reckoning with the collective imagination and the public demons that lurk within it. After that I began to feel the thematic convergence: in a full discussion of the legal ban on publication, Davey forces us to consider the erosion, for better or worse, of what we think of as our sovereignty, personal and political. The media outcry against the ban, the invocation of a mythical freedom of the press, and the simple-minded application of notions of personal rights versus collective rights form a larger pattern that might be harbinger to the Information Age and the strange, footless class of people known as knowledge workers. In all this Davey perceives the inevitable fragmentation and eventual crumbling of the Canada we imagine we live in. This is thought-provoking stuff indeed, and quite as convincing as Christopher Lasch's piece in Harper's, which serves wonderfully as a gloss on Davey's text. Davey is overtly aware of his book as text, and the blacked-sections and the choice of photographs and his chapter heads are clearly part of his textual strategy. My own evolving response to the book is part of that strategy (well, at least it worked: I'm sending in the postcard tomorrow), and the result is that the book leaves one in a state of plain uneasiness. I'm still uneasy trying to think about it weeks later. This is an important, possibly a great book; it's certainly the best thing that I've read about Canada in the nineties. But it's not all easy going, I should say, aside from the difficult subject matter: as part of his own created role as neutral observer of phenomena, Davey (in the manner of other literary postmodernists) adopts a rhetorical posture that can only be described as robotic, belonging to the figure of the Writer as Machine for Generating Sentences. Some of the sentences in this book are given raw from that machine: relentless clunky things akin more to the language of lawyers than to the language of the people—a kind of code contrived only for the quixotic purpose of embedding algebraic formulae in the materials of speech. When you find yourself lost in one of these machine-generated word streams, just hang on to your seat and wait for the verb; it’ll be right near the end. Then all you do is read the sentence backwards and you’ve got it.