Thursday, November 11, 2010

Matt Lennox

Matt Lennox's Men of Salt, Men of Earth (Oberon, 2009) is the type of book William Deverell recently argued we ought to celebrate more in Canada.

It is a rollicking collection of eight short stories, written in the adventure vein of Cormac McCarthy or Joseph Conrad.

It is literary, but delightfully unselfconscious about its artfulness. The stories are gripping, the language imaginative, the intelligence of the author radiant.

Caveat. I published the title story in The Danforth Review in 2006. It was the author's first publication, and it later landed in that year's edition of Best Canadian Stories.

Since then, Lennox has served with the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan and is now apparently a student at the University of Guelph.

Not the usual pedigree of a small press author, eh? (Student, yes; soldier, no.)

It's a pity more fuss hasn't been made about this book. I only discovered it existed when it was long-listed (and later short-listed) for the 2010 ReLit Award. (Stuart Ross won.)

Travel is the common element in these eight stories. The opening (and title) story takes place in Australia. A Canadian youth is taken in the outback by locals/friends and he attempts to kill a kangaroo. Animals and violence (explicit and implied) and also common elements. The narrators/protagonists are young men seeking challenge, seeking definition, seeking to test themselves against the large, mysterious forces of the world.

The book includes a series of linked stories about Canadian friends traveling through India. In one, they get help from a local, who turns out to be from North Toronto.

Men of Salt, Men of Earth ends with a 68-page story (a third of the book) about a young man who joins friends in Mexico on a trail well off the beaten path. The story shows the protagonist in his sales job in Toronto -- succeeding in a corporate culture of macho vigor -- and then transported to the back of beyond. Living as if on the edge of reality.

Or is the whole point that it's a Conradesque quest down the river, seeking the authentic?

Lennox has written a startling debut collection that conjures up Heart of Darkness and All the Pretty Horses. He is not the usual small press author, and this is not the usual small press book.

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