“Children such as Alex and I lived in mystery…”
Butala is the much loved author of many books and plays; she is best known for her “Perfection of the Morning”, a memoir of her experiences for nature and landscape in southern Saskatchewan. Her writing is deeply rooted in the life of the prairies. If Saskatchewan could be called the quintessential Canada, Butala can be called the quintessential Canadian writer. All her writing has been imbued with the sense of continuity and hope of life despite hardships and failures. Her latest work, also a memoir of her experiences, is very different.
On a warm summer evening in Saskatoon in 1962, Alexandra Wiwcharuk paused during a stroll, before her night shift as a nurse, on the bank of the South Saskatchewan River. There she was brutally raped and murdered, buried hastily nearby while still alive. Her murderer has never been found. Butala says this terrible deed devastated not only Alex´s family and friends, but changed a whole community that had never known such a terrible crime in the small prairie city.
Butala went to high school with Alex, but was not a close friend, but Butala, like so many others, remained haunted by this death for more than forty years. She decided to write the story of the pretty and
popular young woman who died so young. She did not set out to be a detective and solve the murder, she wanted to write Alex´s story.
But her research lead her down strange paths, she was obstructed, harassed, followed by police, her phone was tapped, she was threatened and warned off. She does not find the murderer, but finds a chilling reluctance on the part of officialdom to be open about that crime four decades ago. It may be that the murderer is still alive and well in Saskatoon.
But the life and death of Alexandra Wiwcharuk is more than the account of promise destroyed by cruelty and horror, it is a symbol of the evil that is always present in human society. Of the mystery of Alex´s end she writes,
“By struggling to find Alex´s story and to tell it, I had entered the stream of life that had always evaded me, that my own fears had kept me from. Alex herself had awakened me, her beautiful promise, her terrible death, her rage at having life snatched from her, her determination that her story would be told. Alex herself had thrust me into life at last. What I found there had changed me forever. Now it seemed to me that darkness was creeping up…the real world, it turned out is almost too terrible to contemplate.”
Butala cannot forget her colleague and her murder; she has created a story that is a meditation on evil that forces us beyond the tragedy of Alex to a contemplation of evil everywhere in our world. It changed Butala as she wrote it and it will move and change her readers.