These three books serve as a reminder of the relevance of Canada’s small presses, of writers and editors willing to push the envelope of form and content in the shadows of the mainstream.
The three books under review are So It Won’t Go Away by John Lent (Thistledown Press), Jackytar by Douglas Gosse (Jesperson Publishing), and Smoke Show by Clint Burnham (Arsenal Pulp Press).
Wiersema says of Lent’s So It Won’t Go Away, a collection of connected fictions focussed on three Connelly siblings, that it is impressive and entirely satisfying on a surface level, but that there is also much of interest going on underneath: "The levels of structural play are subtle, but deliberately unsettling, and keep the reader active and involved." In particular, Wiersema notes the moments when an unnamed narrator appears and takes credit for inventing the other characters central to the book:
Interestingly, the creator never creates a position of privilege for himself; his story is as fictive, and as truthful-feeling, as the “bigger, impossible story” of the Connelly siblings, and becomes another strand in the complex and utterly winning tale Lent is spinning.
Douglas Gosse’s Jackytar also engages in this sort of layering. Featuring a novel within a novel, it opens with an author’s note purportedly penned by the main character, Alex Murphy. Wiersema sums up the strengths of this book as follows:
Gosse has a keen command not only of the vernacular of the small Newfoundland community, but of Murphy’s French past, and how those voices are shaped and subsumed by life away from that home. Murphy’s discovery of his own voice, as a writer and a man, is at the heart of Jackytar, and makes for a moving and involving story.
Clint Burnham’s Smoke Show, a novel “rendered almost entirely in dialogue,” is perhaps the least conventional of these three innovative books. Wiersema describes it as “an unsettling marriage of fiction and prose poetry” and as “defiantly anti-narrative, creating instead a haze of moments, experience not depicted but recounted.” It is, he concludes, “a novel, and a lifestyle, in the perpetual present.”
Two of these titles were already on my radar, So It Won’t Go Away because it’s a sequel to Lent’s 1996 collection Monet’s Garden which I loved, and Smoke Show because I’ve got it lined up to read in advance of Burnham’s appearance at The Fictitious Reading Series this month. Now I’m looking forward to reading all three.
Wiersema’s review exemplifies the sort of detailed, thoughtful consideration of small press titles that I’d like to see more of in the mainstream press.