A debut collection of Canadian fiction and an early novella from the northland’s chirpy hybrid of Bret Easton Ellis and Ethan Canin.
Novelist Taylor (Stanley Park, 2002) has won the Journey Prize, O. Henry awards, and Best Canadian Short Story awards. Here, the standouts are “Doves of Townsend,” about a woman who inherits a junkshop and discovers the unlikely truth about both being and buying an Object of Desire, and “Silent Cruise,” about a cockamamie scheme to recruit an idiot savant from the racetrack to the Vancouver stock exchange—with predictable results. But the bulk of the volume is the novella, “Newstart 2.0,” where we follow a high-school art student named Shane as he meets Dennis Kopak, one of those zany kids who wears a word that means “horseradish” on his clothes and talks mysteriously into a telephone that isn’t plugged in but somehow rings. Years later, after Shane tells us how he’s transcended nerd status to lay lots of international girls, we launch into the world of Phrate magazine, where Shane covers the art beat and blesses us with ideas like “What’s an original idea? Does it merely lack resemblance to any idea that has come before?” After all kinds of inconsequential travel writing and details about the Internet, Shane hits on a hot story about an artist who unsuccessfully tried to burn his life’s work and who is now represented by a guy with an agency named for horseradish. Kopak reappears but doesn’t recognize Shane, which is good for plot but bad for believability. Etcetera. Taylor’s stories in general are set in worlds that we’re led (by TV) to believe are possible, but aren’t. Taylor’s is a variety of hyperrealism, delivered with smartboy smarminess and decorated with product placement that will convince future archaeologists we lacked all aesthetic sophistication.
Watch out: the invader from the north is just run-of-the-mill enough to be a smash.