Review by Catherine Nutter
Set in an ’80s public housing project in suburban Toronto, Delible is a haunting portrait of the grief and loss left in the wake of the disappearance of one of two sisters. Melissa is among thousands of rootless, high-risk kids who go missing each year. Unlike most of them she does not soon return, leaving her sibling, Melora, to deal with the loss of her other self. “I was 15 years old, barely, and Melissa was practically 16 when it happened. But we weren’t so far apart as it sounds. Melissa Ann Sprague and Melora Ann Sprague. Melora and Melissa. Our mom named us so that we would sound alike.”
Through shifts in time and point of view, Stone fleshes out the sisters’ lives, a childhood in which Dad is represented by empty spaces in the photo album, and in which fear of impending nuclear disaster, and teenage boredom, anger, and frustration, are co-equivalents. The girls get tattoos, drink Southern Comfort from the bottle, and do hot knife hits — together. But while they hurtle inseparably through life, Lora is left on the safer side of the cusp between childhood and the adult world.
When Mel’s belongings are found in a subway station in Islington, they include the coke-bottle-bottom glasses she requires in order to see — a dead giveaway that she didn’t just forget her things in a rush towards a new life. Yet the fact that she had run away before, and attempted to take her own life just a week prior, is seen by police as reason not to thoroughly investigate her disappearance.
And she is, of course, just one of many. “In a period of 18 months,” Lora wonders, “six girls vanish from the face of this earth, and their belongings are recovered at either Islington or Kipling or points between, and still they are referred to as runaways?”
Stone captures what is both best and the worst about the teenage psyche — its resiliency. In the world of these child/women, no expectation of honour or respect is attached to sexuality — just willing acceptance. Drugs and alcohol stand in for an absent sense of protection. Security is a fantasy.
After a somewhat disjointed passage of three years, Delible draws to a close with no definite answer regarding Mel’s disappearance — perhaps a bit too much reality for the reader to bear. It’s hard to give up on her, even though all evidence indicates that Mel is never coming back. The reader is forced to cope with not knowing, just as the family must.
The word delible is not listed in my pocket dictionary — it exists only in its opposite form, indelible (“of a mark, stain, or feeling unable to be removed or washed away.”) But delible is exactly what these characters are: too easily washed away.