When I don’t know how to behave first arrived in the mail, I skimmed through its pages in a semi-panic, anxious with discombobulation. How was I to even read this book and what genre was it? Then, a quarter of the way in, I let go. Recalling a university trajectory that led from a deep resistance to a passionate advocacy of a book like Nicole Brossard’s Picture Theory, I thought – I can do this, such a work will open for me eventually and what do genre constraints matter anyway (without being a waffler that is). Armed with mental adventurousness, I thus ventured forth.
What Shines: I don’t know how to behave (Book Thug, 2013) is a unique text that organizes its narratives according to two alternating plot lines: Book One, Midnight All Night, which involves the ineffable desires of the 70s daredevil Ken Carter to jump the St Lawrence River from Morrisburg ON, a mainly true tale and Book Two, He Grabbed Her Suddenly, Held Her To Himself and Kissed Her Hard Like in a Hollywood Movie, in which a mostly fabricated drama unfolds between the director Bruce McDonald’s plan to shoot a Carter documentary while he is also apparently fleeing criminal charges with the Canadian poet, Gillian Sze, who climactically robs a bank and sets McDonald’s car on fire, thereby destroying his chances of shooting the movie. Sorry, spoiler! But the plot, per se, isn’t what hooked me.
“There’s more ways of getting lost than not having a map” the textual road trip commences and the tension between the topographical clarity of Blouin’s structure and the elemental unexpectedness of his relentless genre shifts sends the reader into a revved up tail spin. Most every page leaps from the launching pad of a colloquial and fragmentary utterance, split into poetic lines, and alternating banks of definition, biographical snippets, explication, script segments, interviews and diagrams, interspersed with illustrations and constructed photographs. Quite the madcap collage. The whole shebang of it is dubbed, on the compelling triptych of a cover design, a “fiction”, suggesting a transcending of writerly categories within a more encompassingly mythified free-for-all. Blouin is magnificent at creating convincing voices, the engine that propels this entangled narrative to a level of engagement that even, at times, attains to the emotional, as in McDonald’s monologue regarding his thwarted feelings for Sze. Here he self-reflexively shuffles between his awkward passion, his consciousness of the need for authorial believability and a quest for summative forms of metaphor:
“You are the reason light came into the room” (shakes head) /It’s a crap line/Nobody could pull that shit off./I wouldn’t ask ’em to. Besides./I don’t think she can stand me much anyway. I’d do better being a damned birdwatcher with a pair of binoculars. Or making my own homemade jam./ She’s a country/I’m a refugee.
The funny thing is, after my first flinch and recoiling, I ended up closing this text with a sense of fairly complete satisfaction, as if Blouin, in finishing this loony sojourn with a pilgrimage to the lacuna where Carter’s ramp should be, actually fulfilled the jump that the daredevil never could. I could also be viewed as a still-naive reader of experimental genres, incapable of critiquing this book according to the arsenal of poetic techniques I possess as I would an all-lyrics collection for instance. Regardless, I decided to take this book for what it is, rather than asking what it could be or expressing a gypped-ness for what it isn’t. Working part-time in film now as I do, and becoming involved in multimedia praxis, perhaps has made me more willing to entertain such a deft and reckless collusion of genres. At any rate, I enjoyed this read. There are however too many quotes from other authors in this book, whether in praise of Blouin or for conceptual enlargement. This is his only real stumble.
What it Echoes (beyond the obvious allusions & according to my own panoply of references): John Cage’s Amores (1943), Ed & Mabel go to the Moon by Aaron Bushkowsky, Easy Rider, Lisa Moore’s Alligator, the CIA scrapbooking scene in Arrested Development Season 3, a buffet in which dishes from breakfast, lunch and dinner are served willy-nilly on a slanted table.