canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

by Lance Blomgren
Conundrum Press, 2000

Reviewed by Michelle Reale

Stand in the place where you live (as the song goes) and wonder how things ever got this way. Apartment dwellers, anywhere, excluding those in luxury digs, will be able to relate to Walkups by Lance Blomgren. His short, meandering vignettes on apartment life at various Montreal addresses expose obscured lives: blemishes, heartache, paranoia and all. In fact, Blomgren's eye is carefully trained on the seamier side of life behind those particular closed doors.

If one were to weigh the merits of owning versus renting, renting would always seem to come up short. Life seems more tenuous, more chaotic, unstable, and, well, sad. Within these walls that one tries desperately to make one's own, the knowledge that it never will be or can be "home" hovers in the not-too-far-off distance. Pay your rent, and don't do anything that might draw attention to yourself, and you may enjoy a modicum of security and privacy. What the landlord doesn't know won't hurt him. The paint is decidedly cracked on the portraits that Blomgren paints, but it doesn't, at all, hurt our view of the picture.

Blomgren's mini city tour of sorts takes us to addresses such as 3444 Coloniale, 5170 Durocher, #1-1949 St. Joseph East and many others, each revealing a figurative crack in their collective facades through which we seem to see everything and nothing at all. Blomgren sets us up with a vivid description of the Apt. D'Amours where we presume the narrator himself presides:

The ceiling in the office is damp although it never rains. And I'm
On the top floor. The weather is cold, but less cold than I would
Have thought. The building is clean and quiet as promised. The
Kitchen is small and cramped, but the dining room opens onto a
Large front room, providing a panoramic view of the intersection.
The bedroom is cozy, enough space for a small bed. But the
Dripping water, refrigerator noise, roomtone. I can't get around
To unpacking. Still no mail.

Concrete details such as these are few and far between. Instead, Blomgren's apartment meanderings are mere stages for what is really going on, and it could be said that these things could be happening to anyone, anywhere, in any walkup in the world, so universals are the minutiae that we are provided. Though the locale is Montreal in the literal sense, metaphorically I, you, we, and they are everywhere and nowhere at all. The dream-like quality of the descriptions will have you wondering less about whether we can trust the voice of our confessional diarist with the wide open eye than about what happens next--and then filling in the gaps with your own imagination. Some passages are simply inscrutable, such as "My face is an imitation of itself. I ask it. What in God's name are you? 'I'm Leukemia. I'm blood trouble.'" But inscrutable is o.k. More questions than answers are fine. And the circuitous tour through the cement jungles of stacked modular living enlightens the reader, but how it does so is up to the individual. The stark, enigmatic photos interspersed throughout this small, thin volume help to create an aura of mystery and discovery. One of the book's epigraphs, almost a warning of sorts, proclaims, " Stay Calm. Keep Calm. Let the room outgrow the walls." Sage advice, that.

Michelle Reale works in the library in Elkins Park, PA.







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