canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

How Did You Sleep? 
by Paul Glennon
Porcupine's Quill, 2000

Reviewed by Dimitri Nasrallah 

It is comforting to know that writers like Paul Glennon can exist in Canada. In a country that has built the bulk of its reputation on rather traditional realism, Glennon's debut collection, How Did You Sleep, garners about the same level of attention a prepubescent boy would receive running unannounced into a girl's washroom [an interview with Glennon appears in The Danforth Review]. The reader is at first caught off guard by the author's inventiveness and playful nature, but quickly realizes his quirky, at times odd sense of humour is essential to these nineteen stories. 

The stories in this collection can be roughly divided into two categories. The first kind involve the stripping down of "realistic" situations to their emotional or psychological core, then using those same ingredients to reconstruct a wholly fictional world that best represents them. The lead story, "The Museum of the Decay of Our Love," for example, revolves around a protagonist on vacation who visits a museum housing the artifacts and memories of a past relationship. Another story has its protagonist being turned into a bear (this resulting from a corporate takeover - don't ask...), a bear that goes on to make a living managing models in Europe. 

In fact, several stories deal with abrupt and unexpected transformations. In "Chrome", a man awakens to find that he can only see the world as chrome. In "The Manikin," a newly-wed has to deal with the fact that his wife has turned into a wooden being. The first person is used frequently. Many of these characters remain nameless. The presentation of their worlds is vague, and the reader is pushed into interpreting them. The nature of these stories is expressionistic; they seem to be probing very personal territory. One is reminded, naturally, of Kafka with his dung beetles and burrowing creatures. However, unlike Kafka, one senses Glennon's worlds and characters haven't been fully envisioned, and the reader hasn't been transposed into the story. The effect at times can seem quite like trying to cross a bridge on the verge of collapse. 

Perhaps this gap between author and reader relates to the blatant artificiality proposed by the second kind of story in this collection. These stories are the more fragmented of the bunch; they tend to deal with found texts. In the hilarious "One Hand," we are given scraps of notes left behind by the narrator's friend, who has committed suicide. In "Via Crucis: A Retrospective," a curator discusses the works of a fictionalized group of painters. With these pieces Glennon is experimenting with the artifice as the story, a construction built to be deconstructed in which the reward is anecdotal. Indeed many of these pieces come off as high-brow humour; the purpose of the work does not reveal itself until the last few lines. This has its advantages, as well as its disadvantages. 

The reader admires Glennon's keen sense of playfulness at a time when so much of our literature explores television-grade Freudianisms, still after the quiet laugh has passed the stories don't quite resonate. However, this sense of hollowness has long been a characteristic of this type of writing. Glennon seems to have an interest in French post-war fiction and thought, which is something you don't often see in Canadian writing. 

Consider yourself warned: this collection is not for everyone. The merits of this collection rely heavily on how long you can suspend your sense of disbelief, and in many places this collection can be trying. The stories do seem somewhat repetitive in their nature. But for all its weaknesses, Glennon's first collection should be noted for its freshness, for its originality.

Dimitri Nasrallah's fiction has appeared in The Danforth Review.







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ISSN 1494-6114. 


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