Monday, 4 March 2013

Have You Seen Candace?

Have You Seen Candace?, a non-fiction book, details years of pain and questions regarding the disappearance and murder of a child from the perspective of Wilma Derksen, a Creative Communications graduate, writer, and - most importantly - mother of Syras, Odia, and Candace Derksen.

What works in this book by Wilma Derksen is the honesty. And I don't mean honesty as in every single detail in the book is 100% true - not to doubt Wilma's recollection of the events or credibility as a storyteller, of course.

I mean that Wilma's writing is honest, raw, and unapologetic. She lays out the facts like a true journalist, but she doesn't hesitate to provide the details of her maternal psyche. For example, on page 20, when the cops insist that Candace had run away because Wilma and Cliff are overbearing, religious parents, Wilma explains her hurt and anger:
"How incredibly naive we'd been! The minute they caught the slightest whiff of our religious background, especially the words Mennonite and pastor, they instantly classified us as fanatical, over-religious hypocrites. Maybe they even believed we used religion as a cover for deviant behavior. I wouldn't normally have cared about their skepticism, but our daughter's life depended on their believing us. We had to convince them."
That is just one example, but her thoughts and feelings are seamlessly but prominently laced throughout the book that remind the reader that this is not just a plot but an actual account of a mother's suffering.  One such example is her uncharacteristic desire to shoot the person who murdered her daughter. In class, she had confessed to still having those thoughts, and she laughed about it too. That is what I love about the book - her honest feelings towards the whole situation, holy or not, are permanently printed for all to see. Her vulnerability is truly admirable.

And that is something journalists can learn from the book - to feel something when they write their stories. I know that we are supposed to remain fair and balanced when reporting - and don't worry, I still think that - but passion and emotion make a story so much more interesting. Being fair and balanced doesn't mean void of emotion. I realize not every story will have some sort of sentimental calibur, but it's just something to keep in mind.

What doesn't work in the book at times is the flashbacks. I appreciate Wilma's anecdotes about Candace, but for the most part, while I was reading, they didn't have a monumental affect on me. Candace's personality is definitely captured through these anecdotes, but I wanted the story to keep advancing without constantly stepping into the past.

Having already read Journey for Justice: How 'Project Angel' Cracked the Candace Derksen Case, a true crime book written by Mike McIntyre, last year, I felt I was familiar with the plot and that there would be no surprises. I find Wilma's book, free of legal-speak and psychiatrical clutter, more appealing to read because I am a minimalist, taking in one detail at a time on a single track of thought. I liked Mike's book, don't get me wrong, but Wilma's version is something I could pick up and read again without being bogged down by details that don't necessarily interest or affect me. Mike's book's role to me is an update on the situation which include topics such as Mark Edward Grant's arrest and his history and his medical condition.

When speaking to our class - and at the seminar last year - I was amazed both times by how composed and happy she had appeared. I mentioned earlier that she had made jokes last week which was both sweet but uneasy for me as an audience member. Should I laugh or would that be crossing the line? Where is the line? Instead, I watched her continue her speech, this strong woman made of armour encased in a block of fragile glass.

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