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Vanderhaeghe, Guy.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1984. 239pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-7715-9814-9. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Tony Cosier

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Guy Vanderhaeghe's first novel starts from an interesting premise; a repentant husband searches through a frozen city for his estranged bride.

We get to know the husband well. Too well, in fact, for easy identification with his quest. Ed is too small-minded for the reader to hope he gets his wife back, but too pathetically dependent for the reader to hope he doesn't.

Ed tells the story. Ed is fat and vulgar and hypertonic. Much of the humour of the book comes from his exploitation of these facts.

Elbows crooked and carried high like a racewalker's, forearms sawing back and forth at my waist, I wriggle down the hallway, veer around the planter spilling plastic ivy, streak across the kitchen, and churn back upstream toward the bedroom like a 240-pound spawning salmon. I've lost count how many times I've thundered round the circuit, breaking stride only for pit stops to void my bladder in nervous, parsimonious spurts and dribbles, or to change the album on the stereo.

An account of Ed trying to maintain dignity while poising with difficulty in a hanging basket chair is hilarious.

People exasperate Ed. He resents the customers at the china department where he works. He dislikes the students in the evening course he teaches. He hates a radio talk announcer he has nicknamed The Beast. He loathes Hideous Marsha. When he is not fleeing from these frustrations-quitting his job, hiding in washrooms, retreating into childhood storybooks-he fantasizes vengeance. He carries out vengeful acts, penning obnoxious letters, spoiling a banquet with a boorish speech, turning his apartment into an Armageddon to torment a cranky neighbour. Most of his aggressions take the form of verbal assault, however, and virtually every piece of dialogue in the novel includes a foulmouthed exchange of insults.

Ed is pathetic and his life is miserable, but Vanderhaeghe's treatment is light. Regard this as easy reading.

A word of warning for librarians: Vanderhaeghe received a Governor General's Award for his first collection of stories, and his publisher is pushing his first novel with a lot of hype. Libraries that do not purchase this book may be deluged with requests from patrons.

Tony Cosier, Confederation U.S., Nepean, Ont.
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