Friday, March 31, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 24th Review - Daddy Lenin

Daddy Lenin and Other Stories, a recent collection of short stories by Guy Vanderhaeghe, is a bit of an acquired taste.  Unfortunately, it wasn't really to my taste.  For a more sympathetic review, you should take a look at the one in the Star.  Most of the main characters seem to be trapped in a toxic form of masculinity and a few of them become obsessed with women when they can't control them.  This is not something that I really enjoy reading.

There will probably be SPOILERS below.

One thing that I am not sure about is whether I would have as much interest in the character, Ed, who is a bit obsessed over his ex-wife in Vanderhaeghe's My Present Age (his first story collection).  While Ed does have stalker-ish tendencies, mostly he causes problems for himself and not so much for his ex.  Nonetheless, I suspect I would not have as much patience with the character on a second read (at one point I considered My Present Age to be a companion to A Confederacy of Dunces).  I could be wrong, of course, and perhaps (hopefully?) I would still enjoy My Present Age.  I will report back if I do manage to reread it one of these days.

I will say that several of the stories took left turns that I wasn't expecting, and that was kind of intriguing.  "1957 Chevy Bel Air" had a young boy flip out when his jailbait girlfriend started going out with a much older man and he fled the farming life that had been laid out for him and made it big far away from home.  To me this seemed a bit of an over-reaction, but still one that I was not expecting.

I wasn't that thrilled with the narrator of "Live Large," since he made a number of bad decisions and kept doubling down on him.  Basically, I considered him a chump, and I really don't have the patience to read about chumps.*  People that make bad decisions in love -- those I can deal with (until they go into obsession territory).  But feckless and/or terrible businessmen, those stories just don't interest me.  And I have absolutely no interest in reading about men that beat women, which takes place in "Counsellor Sally Brings Me to the Tunnel."  I didn't care for this story at all, either the original abuse or the revenge fantasy that is acted out afterwards.

I did feel fairly sad for Bob, one of two brothers in "Where the Boys Were," since he just could not cope after his girlfriend is snatched away (basically abduction by father).  Bob becomes so obsessed with finding her and his (probably imaginary) unborn son that he drifts into homelessness.  His younger brother, Donny, ends up much better balanced in the end, trying to bring Bob back from the brink, but to no avail.

Of all the stories, the one that I enjoyed the most was “Anything,” which featured a retired actor who is hanging about Saskatoon.  He ends up bored and does some play-acting and stumbles into an affair with a married woman.  When she won’t leave her husband – and reveals that she knew all along he was a TV actor – he leaves town in a huff and moves back to Toronto.

I wanted to like the stories more than I actually did, particularly after reading about how Vanderhaeghe came to write them.  But I ultimately wasn't that interested in reading about vulnerable and/or wounded men who put up an aggressive front so that the world won't see their vulnerabilities.  It is unfortunate that such men are particularly poorly positioned to deal with where society is going in North America (especially fewer and fewer jobs for manual laborers and others at the bottom of the ladder), but I don't want to spend my time with or on them.

* It does seem as though I have narrowed the scope of fiction that I do enjoy without reservations.  I have a sinking feeling that I won't enjoy the Rabbitt novels as much as I would have had I read them 10 or 15 years ago, since my understanding is that, by some lights, Rabbitt could be considered a chump and often a self-pitying one.  Again, this is just an impression I've gotten from a high-level review or two.  I'll try to make sure I am in a more expansive frame of mind before I tackle Updike.

No comments:

Post a Comment