Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Bad Boy Grows Up: David's Homel's New Novel, Midway

Ought to put the disclaimer right at the top: David Homel has long been one of my favourite mechant gars. That is, this Montreal writer of considerable talent enjoys playing the naughty boy and making people think the worst of him. His earlier novels, beginning with Electrical Storms, contain a heavy coat of machism, which camoflages intelligence, moral sense and sensitivity that for artistic and/or personal reasons Homel choses not to highlight.

His last novel The Speaking Cure was a dense, disturbing look at life in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Full of sex like the provocatively named Get on Top, the novel nevertheless was concerned with the way men and women slowly make their way toward a space where they can find a semblance of peace and perhaps moments of redemptive happiness.

It probably should be no surprise that his most recent book Midway takes this desire for movement/escape to a better place a step further. At the center is an essay that the hero Ben Allen writes about dromomania, an apparently real masculine hysteria identifed in the 1880s which compelled a handful of Europeans to head east by train or on foot. Why they did so never was clear, but as Ben considers his life at age 50 something, wanderlust is quite attractive.

The Montreal Gazette reviewed Midway on the weekend, giving high marks to the way that Homel presents a man in the sandwich generation, with widowed father, slacker son, and wife who's not as interesting as she once was. The reviewer suggests that the book would be stronger if Homel had his hero respond to this mid-life crisis by jumping over the traces and taking off as if he were a latter day dromomaniac. But the point of the book, in my opinion, is quite different--that adults of substance don't cut and run, don't use "art" as a pretext for cruelty or irresponsiblity--and as such it demonstrates once again Homel's seriousness, not to mention his skill as a story teller.

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