Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: Monoceros, by Suzette Mayr

Published: April 2011

Finally got around to it: July 2011

Because you are evil, you continue to live. Because funny that evil is a noun spelled forward and a verb spelled backwards. Because what you did to your son was the word evil as a verb, a verb that means to ignore someone to death, that locket winding around your boy’s neck, lurid neon signs, a verb that means to stand by, place your hands over your eyes while someone dies in front of you. The verb of not putting out your hand to save. That verb. That human-chandelier verb. That verb-an-unnatural-colour-of-blue verb. That gold, heart-shaped-letter-he-wrote-to-you-and-only-you verb. You evilled. Your chest heaves, scratching in and out your breath.


Patrick Furey is dead. He is remembered and forgotten, as he was both hated and loved. But worst of all, most damning to his future, he was ignored. His feelings, his attentions and desires thrust back at him with a terrifying coda—a threat to his privacy, his happiness and his life. Because the slang u r a fag scrawled across a locker is a phonetic condemnation that will ripple through an entire school. Because “it gets better” has a necessary umbrella of objectivity—objectivity that, when faced with the hormonal and emotional gravity of the high school experience, is readily sacrificed to the altar of fear.

Suzette Mayr’s Monoceros is Patrick’s story, told in reflection through a select group of individuals—students, teachers, school administrators, parents, family, friends that never had the chance to be, and Ginger, the dead boy’s secret love. Through Patrick’s suicide by hanging in the opening chapter, the threads of fate that surrounded him begin to unravel, and each character—be it Ginger, whose rejection of Patrick was more piercing than any knife; Petra, Ginger’s hate-filled girlfriend who is in denial about his latent homosexuality and blames Patrick for compromising their relationship; or Faraday, a unicorn-obsessed girl who loved Patrick in her own way, through a simple act of kindness that, for her, defined his entire personality—is forced to examine his or her placement within both the school and the social hierarchy, and how those perceived barriers and their failures to act have not only cost a young boy his life, but have also limited the breadth of their own individual existences.

Max and Walter—the Principal and the head guidance counsellor. Lovers for seventeen years, unable to have a simple dinner together in public for fear that a parent or teacher or student might see them and blow the whistle on their romance, exiling them from their careers within the Catholic school system—and possibly the public school system as well, given current levels of trepidation and animosity unfairly targeting gay and lesbian teachers. Their story is perhaps the strongest reflection of Patrick’s, and it is their fear at being exposed for who they are that presents the most obvious and terrible mirror to the bullying and harassment Patrick has faced. Their inaction as Patrick is slowly torn apart by the fear and hatred of others is as damaging as any other form of hurt experienced by the boy.

However, it was not Walter and Max's unwillingness to act, nor was it Petra’s bullying that caused Patrick to take his life—it was Ginger’s rejection and willingness to lead a false existence with a girl who could never reflect his innermost lust.

The essential relationships—parent/child, husband/wife, lovers secretly entwined—are challenged in such a way that, as the weeks following Patrick’s death tick by, the conceit of time becomes both restorative and deconstructive. Through his actions and the resounding effect his death has had on those around him—those who loved him, and those who didn’t realize how much a part of their lives were in Patrick and vice versa—Patrick Furey, in death, is personified as an instigator of change. As the weeks pass and graduation approaches—and beyond that, a life that, had Patrick had the strength and support to see the clearing beyond the trees, still carried promise and hope and the opportunity to find oneself—their journeys are immortalized in headstone chapters. The implications for change, now and in the future, such as with Petra, who remains in denial about her role in Patrick’s death, are deafening.

Monoceros is a loving, intricately written book. Mayr’s language is clean, spare, and overflowing with imagery—so much so that the magical realism of the book’s conclusion does not feel forced or out of place. Its cleansing wrath is earned—a gift to the memory of Patrick Furey.


In grade 12, I had the misfortune of experiencing a similar event. I was a teacher’s assistant for a grade 10 art class. In the spring of 1999, sick of being ridiculed as a fag and a retard and every other spiteful tag favoured by his classmates, a young man in grade 10 took his life. He hanged himself from the second-floor banister of the family home, where he remained until his parents returned home later that evening. Whether he was gay or not, no one knew. It didn’t matter—the message was hate, all the same, and like Patrick, obscured by the sense of isolation still so prevalent in high school, this boy saw no other alternative than to end his suffering by any means necessary. I didn’t know him personally, though I knew his older sister through others in my year. It was in the teachers, however, where I saw the greatest impact. The gravity of a child taking their own life was not lost on them. This memory was at the front of my mind as I read Monoceros. This sensation—the loss felt by the teachers, as if they could see the failings in every facet of the world they’d devoted their lives to—has been captured both beautifully and horrifically by Mayr. I would hope that Monoceros finds a home within schools across Canada. It is an essential read.


  1. Beautifully written - the book sounds brutal but it is absolutely one I'd like to read. Would you be ok if I reblogged this on my tumblr? It sounds like a simply magnificent story

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