canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Pack Up the Moon 
by Richard Teleky
Thomas Allen, 2001

Reviewed by Anthony Metivier

Richard Teleky’s Pack Up the Moon is a novel written by a professor, about professors, and, at first sight, intended for professors. As such, Teleky has superb technique, which is at times overbearing, and if I didn’t already know that he teaches creative writing, I don’t think it would be hard to guess. His sentences are sterile and his dialogue is picked clean, compromised by complete and considerate utterances no actual human would actually make in the course of a common conversation.

Nonetheless, Teleky does present us with a compelling narrator. When Karl informs us that he is a Romantic living in the body of a Classicist, we are immediately treated with images of sublimity, showing us that Karl, the professor, is keenly aware that his form must match his content:

As the familiar I-90 took me past trees beginning to turn copper red, past the rusting vineyards of New York State, and the peach orchards of Ontario beside the gray-blue lake, the air seemed thick with gold dust and reassured me falsely. A mellow breeze had blown into my open car window, smelling less of gasoline than occasional bursts of roadside harvest …

I like this kind of attentiveness, but when Karl begins aligning himself with the Bloomsbury gang, I’m afraid Teleky has gone too far. To be equally obscure, if I were Wyndham Lewis and I were reviewing Pack Up the Moon, I would have torn the book assunder and tossed its pages to the fire long before the Bloomsburys could raise their ugly heads. But Lewis I am hardly …

There certainly is something enticing about the character Teleky has designed to carry us through the book. He always knows what street he’s on, for one thing. He tells us in excruciating detail about so-and-so’s furniture and how he thinks such problems of accouterment affect human character and behavior, and he theorizes (without necessarily being aware that he is theorizing) about how the implicit dominance of mise-en-scene in our cinematic lives constitutes the relationships we maintain. Films come up a lot in the book, so much so, that, combined with all the talk of furniture and wardrobe, Karl almost reminds me of the narrator of American Pyscho – and Karl is equally paranoid. There are a lot of "maybes" and speculation in Pack Up the Moon. Why do people do the things they do? And why do they do it in Toronto – a place Karl describes as "pinched" and composed of a "sour core" – why do they do it in Canada, as opposed to the U.S? And possibly, in terms of the Vietnam war, the major question is, why do they do it at all? 

There is a elaborate narrative weave about draft dodgers in Canada which I think any reader could excellently complement by reading Hell No We Won’t Go: Vietnam Draft Resisters in Canada by Alan Haig-Brown. Ultimately, Teleky cleverly lets the notions of draft dodging and the implications it has for his major theme fade into the background as his novel progresses. Nonetheless, it is a huge area of interest and I found myself wanting to know more about the phenomenon as a result of Teleky/Karl’s observations on the matter.

Which leads me to my next point. What is interesting about Teleky’s style is that he manages to break the "show-don’t-tell" rule. But just because he breaks it doesn’t mean he gets away with it. Essentially, the narrator does little more than string together a long series of conversations and observations, which leaves little room for the character’s actual impressions. I can’t give away the ending of the book, but the final page bears a sentence so consciously observant, so lacking in impression, that I felt let down. The book begins with a detail, and ends on a detail. Karl is forever detailing everything in his point of view. 

Still, the reader walks away, not only with the narrator’s story in his pocket, but with the impression of a highly idiosyncratic character who is incapable of giving impressions. Karl is by trade an instructor in the archival arts. As much as anybody, he is forever certain and uncertain at the same time about everything, but when it comes to the details of his own life, he keeps them filed in an obnoxiously professorial manner. Teleky’s tricks with temporality keep the reader hooked, and the contradictions and paranoias that arise in Karl are subtle, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t pack up the moon in such a hurry.

Teleky frees us from the constraints of his narrator by periodically giving us snippets of one or two-way phone conversations, but in the end, we never stray far from the academic world. An entire chapter consists of the preface from a book Karl is supposed to have written. This feature illuminates the character of the narrator, but it also reinforced the feeling that I had all the way through that I had a professor sitting in my lap.

Anthony Metivier lives in Toronto, sits in the laps of professors, and is the author of Solid as Echo: 







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.