Friday, September 4, 2009

John Goldbach

I guess you'd call the reviews mixed for John Goldbach's Selected Blackouts (Insomniac Press, 2009).

Quill and Quire

The narrative doesn’t so much progress as extend through matter-of-fact statements about what is happening, which is rarely anything special. The language does not employ any rhetorical flourishes, and the dialogue in particular tends to repeat simple, common words like “good” and “nice” with distressing frequency.

Eye Weekly (Toronto)

'How Much Do They Know?' is just so first draft and ranty. Even the title gives the story away as an exercise. As every waitress knows, a table of drunk people in their twenties are obnoxious and narcissistic but when a narrator is as well, then what’s the point?

Montreal Mirror

There are no secrets between friends and this is nothing new. When he gets it right, though, Goldbach nails it.

Vue Weekly (Edmonton)

On a first reading, so much is too familiar to really be provoking and it's only on a second reading that the reader can remove themselves from the situations described to read the subtext. Goldbach has a gift of insight and tremendous writing talent that makes this book a must for anyone in their twenties wondering, "What's this life thing about anyway?"


Still, the word "masterpieces" is used by both the Mirror and Eye Weekly reviewers.

Mirror: "Conversation at 4 a.m." and "Wedding" are stunning little masterpieces.

Eye Weekly: “Wedding” and “Conversation at 4AM” are little masterpieces.

Alex Good's Quill and Quire review agrees with the praise for "Wedding," but also praises the story Eye Weekly dissed:

In the final story, a single-paragraph account of a woman watching a wedding show on television, there is a subtle feeling of inner drift, and in the paranoid interior monologue “How Much Do They Know?” the narrative voice has a manic energy that is absent in the rest of the collection.


My impressions?

This book owes more to Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero than it does to Hemingway, but Papa does hover in the background. These are undergraduate stories, stuffed with undergraduate obsessions, undergraduate humour, undergraduate ennui and an undergraduate sense of doom.

Yes, sometimes you want to smack these characters and say, Grow the fuck up.

And yet. One must look at the book for what it is. And I confess I enjoyed reading it. The book is plain, direct and, gasp, perhaps even attempts to grasp the "real" without playing at arsty fartsy games.

I like these kinds of books and wish more writers would attempt to strip back the pasteboard masks of the world, as I remember my American lit prof telling us all, referring to a passage in Moby Dick.

I didn't like the book's beginning. The opening story struck me as weakly funny, superficial, and not worthy of inclusion. The stories improved towards the middle, showing more complexity, depth of character and thoughtfulness. A greater variety of tone, however, would have made the collection more interesting.

To disturb the consensus about the closing story, "Wedding," I didn't think it was particularly special.

Little masterpieces included? I'm unconvinced.


J said...

Michael, you forgot this one:

"Selected Blackouts is a remarkable first book full of keenly observed characters and delightful comic invention."

Globe and Mail

Spencer said...

Hey Michael et al,

Next issue of Broken Pencil (November 09) has my review of Selected Blackouts, if you're interested. I'll post it to my blog once the issue's been released.