Friday, September 9, 2011

David Gilmour's A Perfect Night to go to China

If you google David Gilmour's 2005 novella, A Perfect Night to go to China, you'll get the melodramatic plot hinge in a tight variation of, "man steps out for a quick drink, and when he returns, his son is missing; guilt ensues". But the vanished six-year-old is just an excuse for an exploration of the first-person narrator's spiritual claustrophobia. The hook, then, is not only unnecessary, it blunts the existential torpor of Roman, since his insights and ambiguous judgements don't have as much to do with every parent's worst nightmare as they do with his spiritual movement pre-disappearance. Too bad, because as wandering (physical and mental) meditations go, Gilmour, through his narrator, has some interesting things to say about gentility, thinly disguised conditional "help", and -- pointing the three fingers the other way -- ingratitude and misunderstanding.

I suppose one has to allow a broad acceptance of "just about anything goes" when it comes to dream revelation, but I've never had even one that involved long conversations without imagery. Gilmour's narrator can conjure them at will (or is assailed by them). Just one more reason the attention-grabbing plot push was a misstep. The connection between father and son, for all its sentiment, was abstract, and that hadn't much to do with dreams and memories. This is where the interiority of the novella was at its least interesting. The ending -- well, who didn't see that coming?

The bank robbery didn't make sense from what we're given by way of financial information. Roman is a TV talk show host, noon slot, in Canada's biggest city. Those types pull in (low) six figures per annum. His is a spartan existence, or at least not extravagant, from the little we're given of his diurnal recording, so how he can veer into the red after a month or two of quitting his gig is farfetched. That said, running into two friendly cops three blocks from the heist who want to waylay him only to chat about interviewing Dean Martin and real cops is hilarious.

The style has repeatedly been called "spare", and I've never been able to understand why this stand alone adjective is almost universally accepted as code for the de facto preferred prose procedure. I'm a lover of maximalist, shaggy, varied presentation, but I'm open to all styles, if well done. I just find this preference a trifle closed-minded, and, what's worse, an immediately accepted (often without evidence) synonym for "clear" or "essential", or "fast moving". Gilmour's prose is quite good, but the repetitiveness of the three-sentences-in-one broken up by commas, the phrasal sentences, and the phrasal tics ("I thought" prefacing many sentences -- clumsy segue between description and interior monologue) became wearing, at times. At other times, the darting thoughts and clipped sentences allowed a convincing opening into the narrator's unstable mind.

A quick, fairly interesting read.

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