"Should we have stayed at home?" asks Elizabeth Bishop in the epigraph chosen by playwright Don Hannah for his first novel. If home means the provincial Canadian town depicted here, then she'd be wise to get the first train out of town. Hannah conjures up a scene of highly- nuanced claustrophobia, xenophobia, homophobia (just pick your own phobia), where everyone knows everyone else's business--or they're damned if they won't hunt it out.
The Wise and Foolish Virgins is populated with Real Life's rejects: Sixtysomething recluse Sandy Whyte, who still hears his dead mother's controlling voice ("Only people with filthy secrets shut their bedroom doors, Sandy"), his cleaner Gloria who saw the Virgin Mary in the woods, fundamentalist sisters Margaret and Minnie (Blanche and Baby Jane get God), and teenage loner Chaleur, whom Sandy watches excitedly from his window. As their paths criss and cross, old loves and feuds are revived, and new and unlikely liaisons forged. Like much recent Canadian writing, Hannah's novel plays on the provincial isolation of his setting, and the thwarted lives of his characters, but there is an ironic and humorous touch here-- combined with sex, religion, and guilty secrets--which lifts the book into a promising new genre: Gothic Canadian Soap.--Alan Stewart