Julia Hoop, a twenty-five-year-old counselling psych student, is working on her thesis, exploring an idea which makes her graduate supervisor squirm. She is conducting interview after interview with a group of women she affectionately calls the Molestas - women whose experience of childhood sexual abuse did not cause physical trauma. Julia is the expert, she claims, because she has the experience; her own father, Dirtbag, a furniture designer and failed poet, disappeared when she was eight leaving behind nothing but his Dylan Thomas book, and a legacy of addiction and violence. But the more Julia learns, the less certain she is of what she believes. When both her boyfriend and her graduate advisor break up with her on the same day, Julia leaves her city of Vancouver on a bicycle for a cross-Canada trip in search of her father, or so she tells people. Julia will visit the three cities from which he’s contacted her over the years: Banff, Alberta; Redvers, Saskatchewan; and Kingston, Ontario. Her unexpected travel partner is Smirks, a handsome athlete who also has a complicated history, and with whom Julia is falling in love. Their travel days are marked by peaks of ecstatic physical exertion, and their nights by frustrated drinking and drugs. After an unsettling incident in rural Saskatchewan involving a trio of aggressive children, Julia wakes up in the morning to discover Smirks has disappeared. Everything, once again, falls apart. Sometimes shocking in its candour, yet charmed with enigmatic characters, PEDAL is an exploration of the potholes and pitfalls of identity. It is a close look at how we are shaped by accidents of timing: trauma and sex, brain chemistry and the landscape of our country. PEDAL challenges beliefs we hold dear about the nature of pedophilia, the essence of innocence and the idea that the past is something one runs from.
Pedal is the sort of valuable book that ignites debate, but doesn’t conclude it. Beyond anything, the novel wisely asserts that sexual abuse and trauma are not problems as simplistic and easily solved as we want them to be. Until we are able to have the hard conversations about their complexity we will be no closer to preventing their pervasiveness.