A 30-something vagabond with a closetful of addictions experiments with a macabre new career.
Bishop-Stall, better known for experiential journalism in his native Canada, unleashes a profane, anarchic host of dope fiends in his first novel. Loosely framed against the lyrical structure of Bob Seger’s song “Fire Lake,” the story is a cautionary tale about a writer whose desire to get high derails his ability to tell good stories. Mason Dubisee is a mess when we meet him, and never gets much clearer. He’s landed in Toronto with Chaz, a coolly manipulative dealer who goes to such great lengths to please his customers that he builds his own private club complete with a drug bar and a panic room. “Mason had vowed that he’d never become a dealer, but he’d broken a lot of other vows—that’s what happened if you went around vowing haphazardly like a carefree, careless monk,” writes Bishop-Stall. Instead of pulling him into the family business, Chaz sets Mason up with a gig as “The Dogfather,” a dealer of dirty-water hot dogs to the city’s worker bees. When a regular, Warren, finds out about Mason’s writing abilities, he hires him to write his suicide note. This “successful” exchange sets Mason up in business, writing goodbye letters for some equally forgettable characters. The seedy characters with which the author surrounds Mason, notably a heroin-addicted paraplegic named Willy, lead to some interesting vignettes. However, the novel is also chaotic, rocketing from drug parlor to rooftop to hungover mornings, mimicking the blackout-riddled arc of its main character. Its nine disparate sequences often play out like short stories whose narrative connections are torn and frayed. By the time Mason is pitted against “The Handyman,” a psychotic Finnish serial killer in a winner-takes-all game of cards, it’s not easy to keep rooting for him.
A clever but seriously self-indulgent drug fantasy.