Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I've mentioned before about my idiosyncratic method for choosing the next novel to read. And how, whatever book I end up choosing for whatever spur-of-the-moment reason, it all makes sense in the end. I walked out of the local library with an armload of summer reading, which, for no apparent reason included Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury and Ellison's Invisible Man. I was consciously thinking 'American classics', subconsciously, I might have realized I was choosing novels set in the South. But the real insight came courtesy of Hanniford's grocery store in Saint-Albans Vermont, which I've also written about before. There I was browsing the used book table where I've had some luck in the past (paperbacks for fifty cents, hardcovers for a buck, proceeds going to local charities) and scored a hardcover edition of Seymour Blicker's 1969 debut novel Blues Chased a Rabbit in decent condition. Blicker's novel is surprising for a host of reasons not the least of which is that a nice Jewish boy from Montreal is telling the not-so-nice story of a young African American's experience with prejudice in the US south. If nothing else, this novel is noteworthy as an anomaly. I can see why critics didn't really know what to make of it at the time it was published. Readers must have been asking themselves 'what the hell does this white middle-class Canadian Jewboy know about it'? There is surely no precedent in Canadian literature. The better known Jewish-Canadian novelists of the time, from Klein to Richler to Cohen to Wiseman to Kreisel, all stubbornly stayed close to home (religiously, culturally, geographically etc.). The best part is how convincingly Blicker pulls it off. So now I'm reading Ellison and Blicker in tandem and can't help seeing parallels. I'm convinced Blicker must have read Ellison and not only that but looked to Invisible Man as a literary antecedent. It would not be farfetched. Think of the solidarity of Jews and Blacks during the civil rights movement in the '60s. I look forward to writing more about both novels when I'm done them.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Desmond Bates is a retired linguistics professor who is going deaf. His octogenarian former-musician dad is too. We meet Desmond at a gallery party performing the 'Lorenzo Reflex', not the latest dance craze but the way a person who is hard of hearing bends into a speaker to hear them better. The speaker in question is an attractive blond PhD candidate named Alex (short for Alexandra) Loom who is writing a dissertation on the linguistic/ syntactical peculiarities of suicide notes. Desmond doesn't hear a thing she's saying but nods his agreement anyway. You don't have to be Carnak The Great to predict that trouble is on the way. Desmond narrowly avoids getting lured into the unstable and sexy machinations of his needy protege and Lodge masterfully takes him (and his reader) to the edge of the professor's better judgment. Lodge captures with wit, sincerity and wisdom Desmond's relationships with his second wife Fred (short for Winifred), children, colleagues, and most importantly his crotchety dad who refuses to be put into a 'home'. A touching, funny, bittersweet, multi-layered story about love, family, (mis)communication, human frailty and death - or was that deaf - every sentence crafted with effortless grace. No literary pyrotechnics or violence, just everyday fine, deeply satisfying storytelling. A rare (these days) pleasure.