Ava Homa

The Theory of Light at Midnight

By 
Elizabeth Ukrainetz
Tightrope Books, 266 pages, $19.95
2016
Reviewed by 
Ava Homa

Elizabeth Ukrainetz’s writing shows brief glimpses of life on the other side of a window painted with vivid colours and designs. Language in her work is at the forefront. In The Theory of Light at Midnight, the poetic prose draws the reader’s attention more than the story of Magda, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. 

Like Magda herself, the storyline is fragmented. It takes the reader, as well as the protagonist, about 250 pages to piece together the puzzle and understand how her experience of violence continues to tear her apart decades after the event, how she has to relive the trauma time and again.

The violence Magda experienced as a young girl is pushed into her subconscious, buried under forgetfulness. When an emotional earthquake shakes her up, the book does not clarify what triggered the memories, but it lets the reader explore the interconnections of violence, body, psyche, and language.

When her struggle is at its peak, Magda is left alone with her silent and invisible torment, a war whose casualty is Magda’s ability to make sense of her surroundings and function within them. Time is Magda’s only friend and the saviour that slowly and gradually heals her pain. 

“Day by day, month by month, I have begun to find my place in the world again. I watch, listen, try to re-learn the correct behaviours, interactions, wants, of normal people. Gesture, tone, mannerism. I pick up bits and pieces of their ways, trying to mimic—to shrug, giggle, roll my eyes, as people do—fit this together to a coherence. Hints, signs, pathways back to the ordinary.” 

Magda as an adult has to navigate her way back to a world in which she is suddenly a stranger.

The Theory of Light at Midnight is Elizabeth Ukrainetz’s second novel and third book. She is a poet based in Toronto. 

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