rob's novel reviewed in the globe & mail!
After so many years of not having my books not reviewed or even mentioned, it never even occurred to me that my novel could get a review at all; not a bad little review (although there are considerations of the little book overlooked). Still, why do some folk insist on uppercasing my name?
I think in a way Bartley misses part of the point, including the other (secret) narrative happening within and throughout the novel (not even referenced; why do readers keep thinking the initials are accidental?) (and I don't remember putting a brother in the book; but who is ever completely in charge of anything? Maybe one slipped in when I wasn't looking...), but am very very pleased he liked it. I should just appreciate that, yes?
Expand (and contract) your mind
December 15, 2007
By Rob McLennan
Mercury Press, 102 pages, $16.95
P and H are newlyweds fresh from a Niagara Falls honeymoon. As they settle into their spanking-new, characterless suburban house, the bloom is already wilting.
H goes to work and P wanders the bare rooms, missing her single life. She brings in a stray dog; he comes home and summarily boots it out. One night, she announces that he's the second man she has ever loved. "He doesn't ask about the first. Which is good, because P can't remember." Who, we might ask, does not remember their first love? And what young husband fails to see such a disclosure as a challenge? Are P and H some sort of litmus test for reader comprehension?
Poet Rob McLennan sows uncertainty in his first novel. What's unsaid spurs us on. We flash back to their first date. H was drawn by P's smell: "fields of wildflowers, and shortbread." They walked on a beach, shared a pomegranate. Now their love is pale and strained, and most of the strain seems to be P's.
McLennan's first erotic image gives us H on top of P's "white body." She thinks of touching her tongue to his eyes. "To discover how they taste." Then P's memory is revealed to be seriously wonky. She recalls that her mother is dead, except when she remembers that she's alive.
P elaborately decorates the house for Halloween. When the goblins come knocking, she can't bring herself to answer the door. Winter comes, deepening her gloom. H is mostly invisible, his two obsessions work and the model trains in the basement. On a spring day while he's at work, P packs up and decamps to her mother's farm.
Her childhood home serves more to dislocate her than offer comfort. The house seems too small, the landscape too huge, the smells too primitive. "The ladies. Awash in the damp and slightly rotting smell she associated with her mother." At her bedroom window, she crouches "to mimic her former view," only confirming that the past is irretrievable.
All through this, P and her author skirt around the shadowy memory of her father. While P retains some warmth, her mother recalls him with unembellished enmity.
The one other person whose memory stirs tenderness in P is also the first character given a name: Stephen, her teenage first love. There are hints of rapture and escape, then a loss. Later come hints of a lost brother:" the boy in the bubble and the sound of her father's voice."
An enigma - P herself - is at the core of this book. McLennan never solves it, though he does at last allow P's name to be spoken. Together, the enigma and the naming have kept P and her barely lived life hovering at the fringes of my mind for a few days now. P is the fear, always suppressed, that we exist only by the thinnest tissues of connection -that the self is really nothing but its context. If you're not averse to that sort of fictional mind-tweak, this compact novel can only expand you.