As I mentioned in my last post, Wayde Compton founded a press and published Fred Booker's Adventures in Debt Collection in 2006. Booker was working on a novel that would have been centered on Billy LaPointe, one of the characters in the story "Nativity." Booker was apparently sicker than he let on in public, and he died in 2008 of pneumonia (after a long battle with cancer) with this novel unfinished. So it is a bit of a bittersweet accomplishment to have finished this short story collection but then not the more ambitious project he had in mind. Still, clearly better to have gotten one book into print before passing on...
Many of the stories are entertaining and most start well. They are all about the situations faced by different repo agents going after cars in the Lower Mainland. Fred Booker was indeed one of the few Black repo agents working in B.C. and he knows of what he speaks. I give him major props for writing about the world of work, when so many artists are completely removed from real work or at least something other than temp. work. (I've written two full-length plays myself that tried to take issues of and at work seriously.) The problem for me is that most of the time the characterization is quite thin; this is the most apparent in "Terpsichore for Man and Woman" where the two characters are kind of put in a situation and wound up like toys (or puppets). Booker wants to see how the situation would unfold between two of the repo agents who are mutually attracted to each other but know acting on this violates all kinds of internal HR policies. They speak to each other in ways that sound completely scripted and unreal. Here's an example:
"But Van, what can we hope to gain from a guy so young? He can never appear to approve of any one of us without compromising his fragile authority since we'll all know more about the business than he does."
"I don't plan to be a toady, John. Do you?"
Maybe I could have bought it if the first speaker stopped at the first sentence. But much of the dialogue goes like this, and I feel Booker does have trouble constructing believable characters (or at least believable dialogue), particularly when writing about white or Asian repo agents. The stories with a bit more action have sufficient momentum to overcome this problem. That would include "Matoxy Sixapeekwan," "Incident on Highway 3" and "Woman of the Year." "Incident on Highway 3" was my second favourite story, despite the somewhat unbelievable denouement where the man who has his car repossessed gets unexpectedly philosophical about it.
The only one that really felt forced was "Nativity" where Booker sets up this extended parallel to the nativity story complete with 3 repo men in the roles of the 3 Wise Kings. I felt it didn't work at any level, and the less I mention it the better. I am sorry that we didn't get a chance to see the Billy character set free of this context and in his own novel.
My favourite story is the final story "A Mask for Charlie Dan." This one has Mel (from "Nativity") going onto a reservation to try to repossess a truck. Despite learning of the problems that the young man, Charlie Dan, is causing for the elders, Mel runs up against a wall as the community bands together to protect one of their own. Whether one feels this is justified or not, there is an interesting echoing of various Trickster stories and legends. This story is actually quite a significant achievement, maybe Booker's most significant artistic achievement, and I would recommend that interested readers seek it out, even if they don't have time to read the entire collection.
This is review 6/13. I will return to Kroetsch in my next review.