canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Reviews by Michael Bryson

New Orleans is Sinking
by Mark Anthony Jarman
Oberon Press, 1998

In these nine stories, Mark Anthony Jarman shows as much versatility, humour and sensitivity as J.D. Salinger at his best. Jarman's narrators zoom off the page, commanding presences demanding comparisons to past authors, like ol' J.D., who were big and bold. Salinger may not be Jarman's most obvious ancestor, but in his preference for first-person narrations and characters who speak from the margins of their society, Jarman aligns himself strongly with the tradition that sprang Salinger's modern tales of mid-century Romanticism. (The line goes back at least as far as Wordsworth's shepherds.)

Jarman's lyricism, likewise, is never far from the surface. His prose sparkles with kinetic energy. Writing teachers would say, "He has a good ear, " or "He has a poet's touch." These statements are true, but they allude to less than the whole story. The sound of Jarman's prose is a significant element of its success, but there is more going on. Hemingway said good prose could reach into the 4th and 5th dimensions. If this is possible, Jarman achieves it. His stories are not simple narration, though their plotting and characters are strong. Neither are the stories simply strongly rhythmic. What the stories achieve is a strong integration of literary elements, and the total effect is often symphonic.

In his famous essay on Al Purdy, Dennis Lee speaks of Purdy's "polyphonetics"; that is, his ability to shift voices in mid-verse, and conduct a kind of dialogue with himself and the culture within the form of a single poem. Jarman achieves similar fireworks in these stories. The stories integrate Beatles' lyrics, academic jargon, common talk from the coffee shop, bar or hockey arena, the same way we integrate the stories of popular television shows, songs or movies into our daily lives. We measure our stories against the stories that surround us, and Jarman's characters are no different. He surrounds them with a swirl of information, and somehow manages not to lose them in the confusion. His success is not less than spectacular.

Salvage King, Ya!
by Mark Anthony Jarman
Anvil Press, 1998.

This gem is by now a notable underground hit. Sadly, it would probably need no introduction if it had snagged a more appropriate title and a more consumer-friendly cover design. A story about a boozing, coke snorting, skirt chasing minor-league hockey player during the final days of his often brutally violent ice warrior career, Mark Anthony Jarman's first novel landed him a handful of all star reviews and dozens of appreciative readers. Far fewer than it deserved. The writing is first rate and packs an intensity not much seen in the land of the petrified prairie gopher (would that be W.O. Mitchell or Margaret Laurence? Either will do). If it's the best hockey book ever written, does that make it The Great Canadian Novel?







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