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Good Mourning, Edmonton

“I don’t write books for people to be friends with the characters. If you want to find friends, go to a cocktail party.”  ― Zoë Heller

blind-spot-coverIt seems incongruous: an enjoyable book with a protagonist you’d love to punch about the neck and face. It stands to reason that likeable books have likeable narrators, but the great writers have proven this isn’t always the case. Notes from the Underground, Catcher in the Rye, A Confederacy of Dunces. With a lesser book, from a lesser writer, an unlikeable protagonist can be enough to sink the ship. But what a talented writer does is make us understand that the issue isn’t whether or not the narrator is likeable, it is whether or not he is compelling.

Such is the case with Blind Spot. Author Laurence Miall introduces us to Luke, an unreasonably bitter and angst-ridden failed actor with a host of unresolved (and, arguably, unwarranted) parental issues. He seems every bit that white, middle-class, suburban kid whose upbringing was so bland and safe he felt somehow victimized by it. Having never felt love for (or from) his parents, Luke has grown into an emotionally stunted adult who never feels at fault for his own failures. His life has unraveled both personally and professionally, and all he does is bring everybody down with him.

Throughout, he remains a grade A, capital D, Dick. I disliked him from the first page to the last page, and yet, somehow, Miall kept me reading.

Luke is living in Vancouver when his parents’ car is hit by a train. He returns to Edmonton–his  hometown–to attend their funeral, wrap up their affairs, and fix some things with their house so that it can be sold. While his sister grieves, Luke is, at best, apathetic. Unable to drudge up even the faintest feeling of loss, Luke strikes up an affair with a woman in a neighbouring house. Amidst all of this, he discovers that his mother may have been having an affair of her own.

Publisher NeWest Press generously dubs Luke an anti-hero, but if there was any heroism at work in Blind Spot it managed to slip by me. Luke is a bitter, delusional prick who handles an extremely delicate situation with the grace of a drunk on skates. His fatal flaw is that he remains disconnected to everyone around him. He blames everyone but himself for his sorry state of affairs (quite literally), and is completely blind to his own faults. There is almost nothing redeeming about him, and yet I just couldn’t put this book down.

Miall
I think Laurence Miall has a new novel called Blind Spot. Thanks, Edmonton Journal. Thanks, Edmonton Journal. Thanks, Edmonton Journal.

Miall is completely and utterly unapologetic in his portrayal of Luke. He explores some of the darkest, most selfish, wretched corners of the male psyche, and makes no attempt at sugar coating them. It’s a testament to Miall that, if anything, I wanted Blind Spot to be longer. I wish he had delved deeper into what made Luke tick (or not tick, depending on how you look at it). I wanted him to explore the most interesting aspect of the novel: the omnipresent gulf that existed between him and his parents. As it stands, we see only faint glimpses of this relationship.

“I don’t entirely believe that flesh and blood shit. It’s true for some people, but not for everybody.  What about the kids who went on the killing spree in Columbine? Surely, after the fact, their parents thought, ‘How did these children come from us?’ I mean, you wouldn’t have thought it was possible. You give birth to a baby who grows up to be a cold-hearted killer. And it works the other way around, too.  You see your parents acting a certain way and you ask, ‘How the hell can I be related to them?”

Miall specifically set out to write a short novel, and in that, I think he did this story a disservice. Every issue I have with the book stems from me wanting more. More insight into a character. More consequences for Luke’s behavior. More attention to the apparent social disorder that Luke is suffering from. Blind Spot scratches the surface on so many interesting ideas, and yet, most of the time, the surface is all we get.

But despite any shortcomings, Blind Spot remains another nice find for NeWest Press, who seem to have a knack for rescuing writers from obscurity. Miall had essentially given up being a novelist after years of being jerked around by some of the country’s larger publishing houses. But thanks to NeWest, his book found a home, and an audience. Were it not for them, Blind Spot would have gone on, sadly, unread. In some ways it’s a difficult book to read, but I think it’s a worthwhile one.

With Blind Spot, Edmonton has another literary feather in its cap. It may be a bit too inside in its portrayal of the city, but Edmontonians should appreciate the many ways in which Miall gets it right, like when he describes flying into the city:

“The crowd heaves a collective sigh. The crowd says with a shrug of loosening shoulders, silently, we’re home. And what else could the crowd say? What else could Edmonton be but home? It’s not like arriving in  New York or London — or even Vancouver — where it is likely that you arrived with a purpose in mind, with an air of expectation, with a sense of excitement. You return to Edmonton like you return to your bed.”

Blind Spot strikes me as a novel Jonathan Tropper would write if he got drunk on hard booze, determined to get his demons out. Miall writes in clear, confident, readable prose, prose strong enough to make you forgive him for casting his lot with a wet blanket like Luke.

Like any good car crash, Blind Spot is a disturbing experience … but you can’t look away.

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Rick @ Read the North View All

Originally from Nova Scotia, Rick lives in Edmonton, Alberta, because, well, most of Nova Scotia lives there anyway. He is neutral good.

6 thoughts on “Good Mourning, Edmonton Leave a comment

  1. Perfect title!!

    I have a lot of the same feelings and impressions as you. I hated everyone. Except Laura. Obviously. Fuck him for harping on her getting fat. Yes I am taking that personally #TeamLaura

    This was billed as being a look at the “male psyche” and you talked about that too, which made me expect Nick Hornby but this was darker somehow. I didn’t find it overwhelmingly “male” anyway, I actually related to his teenage years quite a bit, I just decided to become a functional adult at the end of my little rebellion phase 🙂

    Your favourite quote illustrates the problem – everyone said what they meant, but we don’t get to hear it!

    • Glad you liked the title. When I finished writing this I sat there for probably twenty minutes trying to think of a title. One of them was about 19 words so luckily I came up with something more succinct.

      Yeah, this is miles from Nick Hornby. I think he has a Hornby-esque readability, but Miall definitely went into a more distasteful place.

      I’d actually like for him to write a companion novel from the parents’ point of view. I think the mom would tell a great story.

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