Monday, February 11, 2008

"By all accounts I'm a likeable fellow."

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots

Volume 2, Number 1

The Weekend Man
Richard B. Wright

After reading Clara Callan several years ago, I was dead impressed with Richard B Wright. So when I saw this title while browsing shelves in the library, I had to pick it up.

The thing you have to know about Richard B. Wright is, he is a truly Canadian author. This means that not only his subject matter and setting, but his voice, sense of humor, and perspective are keenly northern. As with other Canadian writers, it also means that the picturesque and the ridiculous are mixed in equal parts with the bleak and despairing - just as the protagonist and the antagonist are the same person.
The truth is that I am not a success because I cannot think straight for days on end, bemused as I am by the weird trance of this life and the invisible passage of time.
Wes Wakeham works in a publishing house. He's separated from his wife, and struggles with what he calls the nostalgies - the desire to live in either the past or the future. His dreams of better days incapacitate him. They subvert his ability - even his will - to be a driving force in his own life.
She's a big deep-bosomed woman with a face that should appear in this day and age on packages of frozen pies to attest to their home-baked goodness.
The reflections of the glorious contented past or the glittering champagne-coloured future are portrayed in a strange and specific way - the events of the book are impossible to date. They all occur in the few days just before a Christmas, but the year is never mentioned. At different times I thought it was set in the 1980's, the late 1960's, the 1990's, and the '50s. It's an effective way of temporally displacing the reader in order to manufacture sympathy with -- and, conversely, distance from -- the narrator.
No doubt she's wearing a smart tweedy suit and her long brown hair will be piled neatly under a simple hat. She's probably drawing on leather gloves at this moment and looking a bit like Joanne Woodward in one of those scenes where Joanne is trying to get rid of some creep so she can rush off to meet Paul Newman on the steps of the Natural History Museum.

Wes is a weird dude. He's severely emotionally distant from everyone around him, and has an unnervingly amoral approach to life. He's mild-mannered and apathetic, and sinks himself into fantasy constantly. I was not sure which he most reminded me of - Bartleby the Scrivener or Walter Mitty.

Before retiring I stood in front of the dresser mirror and tried on Bert's Shriner's fez; an elaborate headpiece, royal purple in colour with a silver tassel and a gold crescent moon and three small starts on the front. It came down over my eyes and made me look like some sly rascal from the streets of old Baghdad.

Flashes of the profound come thick and fast in this book. Written in the first person, it is a mild series of observances about the performance of daily life as the narrator sees it pass in front of him. There are many characters that enter and exit the stage before him, and his descriptions of them are hilarious, quick-witted, misguided, sobering.

She looks good today; blonde and sleek and heavy breasted in a starched blouse and a grey skirt which nicely covers her fine big bottom. Mrs. Bruner looks like James Mason's mistress in some movie about the fall of Berlin. I dare say she has climbed an Alp or two in her day wearing those heavy walking boots and short leather pants, singing songs of the Fatherland.
I found myself very often wishing for a change in narrative perspective - searching the pages for insight into the truth about how others actually saw this man.

And so we watch each other, though his look is turning into a glare. He probably thinks I am a homosexual. He doubtless would like to get out of his Chrysler, pull open my door and smash me right in the mouth. Perhaps even give me a kick in the scrotum as I lie on the pavement. I cannot tell the Moustache that all I am doing is searching his face for something to go on; some clue that will help me understand how he does all this without blowing his brains out some Monday morning about ten minutes past seven.
The book is so funny - I started laughing out loud at around page 3, and continued to the last chapter. It won't be universally appealing: I know enough about my taste in books to know that. My mother, for one, would hate this book - primarily because she would hate the narrator, just as she loathed Holden Caulfield. I find myself alternately in sympathy and in exasperation, understanding his perspective on life even as I am wishing he would suck it up and get on with things.

I myself just drift along, hoping that the daily passage will deliver up a few painless diversions. Most of the time, however, I am quietly gritting my teeth and just holding on.
Keep an eye out for Richard B. Wright, if you are the type to appreciate the pain, the numbness, the conflict and the humor of the everyday.


kate said...

great and nicely honest review, Shan. I'll have to look out for this one.

Jo said...

I'll have to look him up - sometimes it is hard finding Canadian authors who aren't Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje here, but I will look.

Jenny said...

Great review...
Okay...I'm slow on the Gwen's post!!LOL...just call me un idiot.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I love your book reviews, I'm a review reader - record reviews for bands I'll never listen to, movie reviews for movies I have no interest in, whatever, I like reviews. You write an amazing review. Have you ever thought of approaching the local paper to do book reviews ... may even get a bit of pay. Need to also so that I thought Gwen's review of Fox in boots (or whatever) was an hysterical revamp ... you two must be fun at parties, do you have to hide the sharp cutlery??