canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

by Geoffrey Brown
Gutter Press, 1999

Review by Jason Millar

As a child, we lived in a house with a poorly lit, finished basement, which was always a few degrees colder than the other floors. Occasionally I would stay down their watching television until everyone else was in bed-I could hear the wooden frame of the house creak as the cold air outside caused it to contract. When it was time to go upstairs to bed, the basement light was left on until I was near the bottom of the staircase at which point a fear would come over me. Turning off the light, I would charge as fast as possible up to the ground floor, shaken. The terror of some unknown entity pushed me forward, a thought of something down there in the basement, waiting for the dark in order to attack.

There is no explanation for this behaviour, or any way of rationalizing or describing the thing that frightened me. In Notice, Geoffery Brown creates a curious and terrifying world in which the characters remain nameless and faceless throughout. Their motivations are a mystery-we are exposed only to highly neurotic situations that we can't possibly understand, but that we can relate to with a surprising familiarity. Pages in the book contain short paragraphs, separated by white space, each paragraph successfully evoking vivid emotion in the reader, though none of the paragraphs are necessarily joined by time or setting.

In fact, at first the book seems to be composed of an endless series of disjointed passages, one having nothing to do with the next-and yet-it is impossible to put down. Though there are no characters in a traditional sense, Brown suggests continuity through the use of pronouns in the narration. For example, one passage reads, "It was their mistake", then the next starts "There was one there. I took it out." A few pages later "They killed him after dark." Several pages into the book, a strange resonance is created that seems to make sense even though it is difficult to explain where the book is trying to take you.

Each instance of "He" or "I" does not necessarily refer to the same person, but actions and situations contain hints that suggest familiarities between one or more characters. The strongest (and most common) device used throughout the book is repetition. Both repetitions in narration and action inject a sense of near paranoia in the reader, drawing you into the moments of existence he briefly describes:

"He put one in and then another one. He had two stuck in already so he doubled it. He pushed them in and waited. There was no response. He held them there and got another. Put that one in as well. He pushed the others up. He held them there. There was no response. He had put them in. All of them were in. They were all pushed in."

The fact that we never find out what object is being "pushed in" does not affect the sense of the writing. The moment remains intact. The style works, capturing us in the text. Geoffery Brown has created a fascinating narrative style that grips your emotions from the first passage. It is a highly successful and entertaining stab at experimental writing.


Jason Millar lived in Toronto when he wrote this review.







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