Read This: Kill the Robot
Fiction by Maggie McDonald (McGilligan Books)
REVIEW BY Tara-Michelle Ziniuk
“I’ve been known to refer to our national literature as ‘banal realism,’” Maggie MacDonald warns, acknowledging the harshness of the statement. “So much Canadian literature has this written-at-the-cottage, for-the-cottage feel to it. I’m inspired by the exceptions, authors who are unafraid to move away from this cottage country mindset and examine possible futures. Why can’t Canadian writing be more twisted?”
This November MacDonald released her own charming, wise and, yes, twisted illustrated novel, Kill the Robot (McGilligan Books). MacDonald’s resumé alone is justification for an on-looking artist to develop an inferiority complex, but the fact that the Cornwall, Ontario-raised, Toronto-based, 27-year-old is involved in so much more than her writing is reason to wonder when she sleeps. Currently MacDonald plays with bands Republic of Safety and Hidden Cameras, the latter of which she has toured with internationally. In 2003 she landed a BBC Peel Session with her former band Barcelona Pavilion. She’s the creator of the self-published comic Abandon the Army of Electric Sheep and artist of The Rat King series, now adapted into a rock opera set to open at the end of January in Toronto. An award-winning playwright, as well as a photographer, singer, writer, musician, zine-maker, visual artist and former small-town Ontario punk-show promoter, MacDonald also finds time to live out her political goals.
An NDP candidate in Cornwall in the 1999 provincial election, MacDonald spares no time in letting Kill the Robot readers know what to expect: “Radiation and Russia.” Only two chapters in, the narrator reveals, “these two subjects kept me going right up through high-school.” Through the eyes of its literally and figuratively disembodied protagonist, Moore White, the book is set in a stylistic, fantastical satire of an alternate reality, which spans from the ’80s to present day. The sexual content of MacDonald’s work is not left implicit either. She uses sex in both her music and written work to take on issues of power imbalance, information dissemination and social hierarchy. “What I’m really trying to do is talk about politics and the body. Our cultural ideas of humanity disregard the significance of the body so often; people don’t think about bodies unless it’s in the context of sex or illness—so I use sex to get people’s attention and make them think about the physical.”
MacDonald lives up to her own challenge. Kill the Robot is certainly unafraid—of being politically sharp, harshly witty or strikingly sexual. It may not be the ideal by-the-fire read, but Kill the Robot will not leave you wondering why Canadian writing “has to be so banal.”