This book captured my attention from its opening sentence: "There is something sad about wind and fences." The wind blows on through fences throughout...moreThis book captured my attention from its opening sentence: "There is something sad about wind and fences." The wind blows on through fences throughout the novel, as Drinkwater, a washed-up hockey player nearing obsolescence, comes to terms with his fading career, his future career operating his family's junkyard, and his relationships with three women: his ex-wife Kathy, his fiancée The Intended, and his mistress Waitress X.
The unusual feature of this novel is its lack of characters. Drinkwater's string of hockey coaches and fellow players are known simply as "coach" or "the goalie," and one is not distinguished from another. His Intended and Waitress X are never named, and character development is almost entirely lacking. This novel is about Drinkwater himself, and it is sustained entirely by Jarman's remarkable prose. Jarman normally sticks to short stories, where his writing shines without the need to sustain the reader over 80,000 words or more. That Salvage King, Ya! pulls it off is quite a feat.(less)
This is quite a collection. On finishing it, I had to wonder why Jarman isn't better known.
The answers to that are obvious. First, he writes short sto...moreThis is quite a collection. On finishing it, I had to wonder why Jarman isn't better known.
The answers to that are obvious. First, he writes short stories, which many people view as a training ground for beginning novelists rather than a serious discipline in its own right, and so he doesn't get wide exposure. Second, he's at odds with the conventional "Canadian short story," which is realist and character-driven -- see Munro, Alice. (Not that I have anything against Munro, Alice.)
But Jarman is so, so good. His prose crackles. Jarman lives at the level of the sentence, and often seems more concerned with sentences than with plot or character, and the results are remarkable.
Furthermore, he's drop-dead funny. "Fables of the Deconstruction," in which a professor struggles to interpret the intentions of a student who removes her bra from under her shirt, is not only drop-dead accurate but hilarious. "If Derrida didn't exist, we'd have to invent him," she remarks, borrowing from Voltaire, "and then beat him up at recess."
The Cellist of Sarajevo has received good reviews and on the surface has a lot going for it. It's well written, convincing in its detail and doesn't w...moreThe Cellist of Sarajevo has received good reviews and on the surface has a lot going for it. It's well written, convincing in its detail and doesn't waste words. Three characters struggle to get by in besieged Sarajevo. Kenan walks off to get water for his family and neighbours; Dragan to get bread. The third, Arrow, is a female sniper charged with protecting the cellist, who for twenty-two days will play in the Markale marketplace to commemorate the victims of a mortar attack.
The triple, parallel narrative struction Galloway uses is a staple of contemporary fiction; five minutes in your local bookstore will suffice to find a novel featuring three unrelated characters whose stories are drawn together by some central event or symbol. That's fine, but the problem is the way it can suggest we have a false solidarity, as the three stories all arrive at the same conclusion. When that happens, we arrive not at some kind of truth but at a literary contrivance.
This is where The Cellist of Sarajevo goes off the rails. When you step back and look at it from a critical distance, the novel becomes irritatingly contrived. This is most evident in the story of Arrow, the female sniper. The contrivance appears in the timeline: while Dragan's and Kenan's stories cover a single day, Arrow's stretches over several days, but is presented in parallel. Her character, too, is contrived. While Kenan and Dragan are convincingly everyman, Arrow is exceptional. She's not only an exceptionally skilled sniper, but she sets her own rules, choosing her own missions and working outside the normal chain of command.
There is no real tragedy in Galloway's Sarajevo. People die, to be sure, but each of the three characters emerges clean and morally unscathed, overcomes his (or her) flaws and becomes a better human being. There is no sense that wars call on people to do terrible things; there is no moral ambiguity. There is no sense that the most difficult question for Sarajevans is not how they will survive the war, but how they will live with themselves and their neighbours in the aftermath. Instead, the novel offers simplistic platitudes: killing people is wrong, and art will heal our wounded humanity.
Notably, the real-world cellist whom Galloway used to unify his novel is less concerned with art than with cold, hard cash, and as soon as the novel hit the best-seller list he demanded some. This alone should suggest there's something awry with this novel's vision.(less)
The Second World War comes down to a village in rural Quebec when the village's first casualty is repatriated, accompanied by an Anglo honour guard. H...moreThe Second World War comes down to a village in rural Quebec when the village's first casualty is repatriated, accompanied by an Anglo honour guard. Here follows the obligatory wake, a comic romp through sex, death, and language politics, all in the overbearing presence of the Catholic church. The weight of history, the rural setting, and all that snow: it's the stereotypical stuff of Canlit, but La Guerre, Yes Sir! is short, and riotously funny.
Both swearing and prayers (which in a sense, amount to the same thing here) are left untranslated; the mangled prayers of the villagers are, unfortunately, an untranslateable joke. The villagers don't get a free ride here in favour of mocking the maudits Anglais; Carrier mocks the ignorance and religiosity of rural Quebec, circa 1944, much more savagely than he attacks the Anglos. In keeping with the attitudes of its day, the novel has no sympathy for the rural, the hick, or the traditional. In this sense it recalls Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; both the mangled prayers and a clock ticking "always, never" over a sinner allude to Joyce. The language, however, is straightforward, and this book is an easy read.
(Review applies to the English translation.)(less)
You can't call Matt Cohen a one-trick pony. There's a lot of range in these posthumous short stories, a variety of approaches and voices and styles th...moreYou can't call Matt Cohen a one-trick pony. There's a lot of range in these posthumous short stories, a variety of approaches and voices and styles that not many writers can pull off. One of Cohen's feet is planted firmly in familiar CanLit territory, in the kind of critique of small-town mores found in other Canadian writers of his generation. The other foot is dancing, stomping around pretty much wherever it wants to. You might complain that some of the stories seem slight, but perhaps it's because of the company they're keeping. Well worth reading, especially for anyone seriously interested in the short story as a form.
Olympia is Dennis Bock's first novel, preceding The Ash Garden.
The Ash Garden was my introduction to Bock; it gathered all kinds of buzz because of th...moreOlympia is Dennis Bock's first novel, preceding The Ash Garden.
The Ash Garden was my introduction to Bock; it gathered all kinds of buzz because of the significant size of his advance. But it didn't live up to expectations; one had the sense it was deliberately constructed, built upon a scheme, and the underlying scaffolding was sometimes more visible than the story.
I had the same sense here. At times, it seems that Bock's allusions and symbols are more clearly and carefully drawn than his characters. Nonetheless, Olympia suffers less from this fault than did The Ash Garden; although it garnered less attention (and cash up front), this is the better novel.(less)