Former editor at subTerrain and one of that proliferation of MFAs that has been infecting the North American writing landscape like a pestilence since the 70s(his from UBC), Dennis E. Bolen lives in Vancouver.
This is his seventh book. It has generally been greeted by good press both in Quill & Quire and in The National Post. This review will not follow suit. Before I discuss why I feel I must speak out against Anticipated Results, I want to give Bolen his due. He writes in a clear, easy style reminiscent of Richard Brautigan, as in this example:
From what Paul and Bill, Gus and Nick, and later on a-guy-who-used-to-come-to-the-bar-but-I-never-learned-his-name can remember, every few weeks they’d soberize and confer on what next to liquidate.
All the cars went. This took time because, in those days, guys would often keep more than one, sometimes several….
I enjoy this writing style. It’s not too challenging. It’s something you can sit back and immerse yourself in as you follow the quotidian existence of these characters as they sit back and watch life pass them by. These are well-drawn characters we can easily relate to as each of us internalizes some of them.
Let’s take a step back. Anticipated Results is divided into three sections. The stories in the first and third part are interlinked centering around the ordinary lives of a group of failures. Bolen clearly enunciates his perspective on them by titling one of the short stories ‘The Pathetics’, with Paul, the taxi driver artistic alcoholic as one of the keystones to this motley assemblage. The first story, ‘Paul’s Car’, begins to establish Paul’s character:
The city is an exploding suburb on a Fraser River delta named Lulu – after a San Francisco dance-hall performer – a vast murk of silt, deep channels of mosquito-rich water, condominium developments, shopping malls, airport, and vast groves of thick alder forest. Relevancies to Paul on an average day would have to do with where in the week it was (Friday), the season (spring), religious holidays if any (when the Sikh or Hindu drivers might be at temple), whether or not the cruise ships were in (meaning a possible 300-dollar day and tips in US funds), the cost of fuel, how efficient was the dispatcher. Et cetera.
The city itself becomes a character in this description. Cleverly, Bolen envelops the stories with dinner parties that, if the middle section had been eliminated, would have elevated that ‘cleverly’ to ‘brilliantly’. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Let me give you an example of the breakdowns, the majority of which tend to occur in the middle section titled ‘Process’. I am left to wonder whether these stories were added as an afterthought in an attempt to add heft to the book. This could be right as ‘Process’ occupies 64 of a total of 239 pages or almost a quarter of the book.
One of the stories to which I refer is ‘Wood Mountain’. Wood Mountain is a town in Saskatchewan made famous by Andrew Suknaski in his mid-70s collection Wood Mountain Poems. The story is about the narrator’s cousin Edie who, while the narrator was at a family reunion there
Just lunged out from a family huddle and shoved a foot into my mid-section – kick-boxer style – in plain view of Uncle David and Aunt Juliet, the cousins, my folks, brother and sister, everybody. We had been visiting their farm. I can’t remember doing anything offensive. We were just kids.
This story has nothing whatsoever to do with the Vancouver characters that bind together the interlinked narrative. Why, then, is it relevant?
In 1963, Italo Calvino wrote Marcovaldo, otherwise known as The Seasons in the City. This collection of twenty short stories contained one titled ‘The Garden of Stubborn Cats’. Bolen, in ‘Kitty’, writes a story about the narrator’s apartment where:
The only weirdness was that a number of cats had invited themselves in over the months. The place had a good-sized main room I would have preferred to keep empty, but in the corner by a window a ragged pile was building up with boxes from a former situation. I like to keep one window open at least a crack, even in cold weather.
They would duck cautiously through onto the high sill, investigating the drop.
Isn’t this ‘The Apartment of Stubborn Cats’? It has nothing to do with the interlinked stories. Worse yet, Calvino’s was far more interesting.
This work had considerable promise. If there wasn’t sufficient heft to the book without the middle section, then why not extend it through additional interlinked stories? Bolen had created more than a sufficient number of interesting characters. The extension was the natural option and the one that would have maintained interest throughout. Instead, we have a sizable break between sections one and three forcing us to reorient ourselves to the cast of characters when we enter the final part, ‘Outcome’. There is no process to ‘Process’— just a random series of writings that interfere with an otherwise enjoyable read.
Arsenal Pulp | 242 pages | $18.95 | paper | ISBN #978-1551524009