Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Review-dialogues at That Shakespeherian Rag

Steven Beattie at That Shakespeherian Rag has started a series of review-dialogues. The first, about a collection by Elyse Friedman entitled Long Story Short, is with Derek Weiler, of Quill and Quire and Stuff in the Attic.

The form of a review-dialogue is an interesting one, and though comments sections of online literary sites tend, at their best, to function in a similar fashion, I have never seen an exchange this detailed. In writing his intro to the project (and kind enough to refer to a comment of mine), Beattie emphasizes there is a provisional aspect to what he's doing; he is not sure that this form of discussing work will be a method of reviewing that will take off at his site. Here's to hoping it does.

Here's a sample of the first exchange:


Which leads into my overall experience of Long Story Short, which I found wildly uneven. Sometimes mildly so: as with “The Soother,” I found myself overlooking minor flaws in stories that I generally loved, like the novella “A Bright Tragic Thing.” Sometimes more egregiously: there are a couple of stories here, “Truth” and “Wonderful,” that for my money should never have been included at all.

In “Truth,” a couple on a blind date communicate by saying exactly what they’re thinking, rather than the usual bland dissembling. Well, “exactly what they’re thinking” isn’t quite right – what these two actually voice are the subconscious impulses and motives that most of us don’t even articulate to ourselves. And here it’s all played for straight laughs. “Listen,” says the man, “my self-esteem will be temporarily boosted if I get you into bed tonight, and that waitress is making me horny. Why don’t we go to my place.” The woman replies, “Why not. I have masochistic inclinations and I’m feeling self-destructive.”


I do admire the way Friedman pulls the rug out from under the reader in the story’s early stages. When Leslie and Martin first meet in the Starbucks coffee shop, the initial impression a reader gets of Martin is that he’s just a gigantic asshole: “I’m too cheap to pay more than a buck for a cup of coffee. Besides, I’m already buzzing. Just had two cups with another prospective partner at the doughnut shop around the corner.”

And Leslie’s tepid response – “ ‘Oh.’ She frowned. ‘How did it go?’” – makes her seem like a bit of a doormat. It’s only as the story progresses that you realize what Friedman’s up to: these are two people without interior monologues, and they vocalize everything they are thinking either consciously or, as you suggest, subconsciously.

The tension between a blind date that follows a rather traditional trajectory – meeting in a coffee shop, moving on to drinks, back to his place for sex – and the absolute, brutal honesty of the two characters results in a kind of absurdism that is rare in Canadian fiction. But you’re right that the story would seem more at home on Saturday Night Live or Comedy, Inc. than in the pages of a literary collection.

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