Saturday, September 24, 2011

Too Much, Too Little

It's long been my opinion that poets publish too often, and novelists publish too sparingly. I agree with this writer's article regarding the latter trend.

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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

David Gilmour in the NaPo

This article by Mark Medley in the National Post based on an interview he conducted with David Gilmour upon the release of his latest novel brought to mind a similarly bizarre explosion some years back when listening to Nigel Beale's interview podcast with Gilmour a day after he won the Gov-Gen Award for A Perfect Night to go to China. But first to the NaPo piece.

Gilmour doesn't hang out with writers because they're "insecure".

He then recounts how he went on a manhunt for Andre Alexis after the reviewer had trashed A Perfect Night to go to China. A year and a half of rage. But he calmed down. "Beating the living shit out of this guy" became a plan to "slap him across the face". Medley reassures Alexis: "Still, the critic can breath [sic] easy -- if they do come face-to-face, 'I'm going to try to keep my hands to myself', Gilmour promises." I love the hilarious "try" and "promises". I'm sure Alexis' pulse would slow a few dozen beats per minute if he spotted those two words. It's now been five years since that thumbs-down review.

Beale, in his probing interview, asked Gilmour about the GG award process. The author, to his credit, admitted that success depended completely on the luck of the draw as to who the jurists were that particular year. He followed that up with this juvenile head-scratcher regarding his win: "everyone who's ever been a critic is going to have to eat it". But why would critics uncharitable to Gilmour's work care if he won the award or not since even Gilmour doesn't believe it has any objective merit?

But then the shit really hit the fan. Beale was highly praiseworthy of the book as a whole, but prefaced his comments with this: "I didn't like some of the similes you used in the first two chapters." Gilmour's response?

"Are you fucking with me? Don't fuck with me about my work. I don't put up with bullshit from people. Don't you be telling me that the quality of my work differs from one chapter to another. That is fucking presumptuous. I won't put up with that bullshit, do you understand? Fuck you."

But it gets better. Switching gears ....

"Those books are like children. When someone ... says, 'I like your first son, but I don't like your daughter', my response is to say 'fuck you'. "

The analogy is silly. A book is an insentient collection of words. It would be more accurate to say that a book is a closed-loop extention of the author, or father, to use Gilmour's terms. But rushing to the rescue of the honour of one's son is more noble than justifying one's artistic production by rage and threats. But let's play with his comparison, anyway. A son (or daughter) has to grow up. If a father attempts to continually coddle his offspring from the inevitable challenges and horrors of life, it promotes dependence and -- ironically -- a greater chance that protective intervention will need to be undertaken to save the bubble-world child/adolescent/adult. Which brings us back to the NaPo article.

Gilmour doesn't mix with writers because they're "insecure". Didn't Freud call this projection?

Another irony is that Gilmour relished sticking it to his guests, without warning, when he hosted his own TV arts program.

I bought A Perfect Night to go to China several months ago, but have been plowing through other novels since then. I'm in the middle of two others now, but when I finish them, I'll pick up Gilmour's book, read it, then review it in this space. Yes, even under the implicit threat of physical backlash! I just won't tell the greater public which bars I frequent.