canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

My Uncle Roy Was a Mob Guy
by Len Gasparini
Black Bile Press, 2006

by Salvatore Difalco
Black Bile Press, 2006

Reviewed by Christina Decarie

These arenít stories about the writer, and they arenít about the characters or even what happens to them. These stories are about the reader and how the reader reacts to and understands them. And thatís why they work.

I read Len Gaspariniís My Uncle Roy Was a Mob Guy and Salvatore Difalcoís Outside with relief and recognition. Things happen. Then they donít. Sometimes one thing leads to another thing. But not very often. People drift in and out of charactersí lives and the mystery of that really isnít worth investigating. There isnít much meaning in most of it. Mounds and mounds of deep thinking arenít necessary.

Yet itís still compelling and I still wanted more. How could I not want more when Al, Gaspariniís hapless tourist, arrives in a Jamaica that looks like this:

[T]he black, gold and emerald green folds of the Jamaican flag hung limply in the humid air. Drouillard walked toward the hangar. The tarmac felt hot underfoot. The sun beat down relentlessly. Iím sweating off jet lag, he thought.

The story continues in a subtly staccato style, drawing you along like one of the storyís tourists on a bus, sitting back, taking it all in, ignoring what a tour guide would like to tell you, and somehow getting more out of it all on your own.

White tourists stood out like toadstools on a bowling green. Drouillard could hear the strongly accented downbeat of reggae. It reminded him of the rhythm of sexual intercourse Ö. He spotted a thatched, open-air cabana called The Pork Pit. It advertised jerk pork and chicken. He ordered a bottle of Red Stripe beer and beef patty. The beer tasted sweet and refreshing. Three other white people were there: a couple and an obese man who sweated profusely.

Salvatore Difalcoís stories in Outside share Gaspariniís detached, aimless esthetic. Characters notice, but donít really note; things happen, but the stories donít seem eventful, even when upon reflection, there were lots of beatings and rapes and general nastiness. But getting raped and beaten up, the point may be, isnít so much of a drama as just horrible.

The opening story, ďAliciaĒ, is easily the most brutal and difficult to read, but also the one that has stayed with me the longest.

He cocked his fist and punched her in the mouth with a crack. She dropped to her knees, her eyes glazedÖ.Hot salty blood gushed from her sinuses, instantly filling her mouth. Someone grabbed her legs and then she felt her arms and hair being pulled. They dragged her into an alley and threw her against a dumpster.

This is not an action-packed, page-turning moment. This is not exciting or dramatic. Difalcoís description is raw and horrible and there is not a whiff of exploitation or enjoyment on the part of the writer or the reader. Itís difficult to read. And this isnít even what the story is about.

Difalcoís stories describe brutality, sure, but what they expose is an emotional brutality that hits even harder than the kicks and the punches. And nothing is redeemed; nothing is explained.

Joe? she said, pressing the blook-soaked handkerchief to her mouth. Her front teeth were loose, her tongue scratched. Her crotch burned and ached. Joe, she said, please. She could feel him standing there behind the door. Her legs trembledÖ.Joe, she said again but more to herself this time, as she sensed him retreating.

Gaspariniís emotional brutality is less apparent than Difalcoís, but it is there nonetheless. Even the most tender of his stories, ďLaura,Ē hurts when the only joy possible is merely imagined:

Ah, Laura! She was the woman he had always dreamed about. She embodied the unattainable by virtue of her radiant transience.

And it remains unattainable, this happiness, this contentment, and all that is left is cold highways, delayed trains, dangerous streets and lives with people who donít really care that much about you, themselves, or anything else.

What all this means is up to the reader.







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