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Carpenter, David.

Erin (Ont.), The Porcupine's Quill, c1985. 157pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 0-88984-073-3.

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Don Precosky

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

David Carpenter's Jewel is a good-bad novel. It has some brilliant passages bobbing around in a sea of flaws. Carpenter has a fine ear for the spoken voice. Some of the domestic scenes in which the hero, Julian Fairfax, librarian and semi-closet gay, is alone with his cat Chagall are marvellous. He talks to the cat and imagines the cat's responses. These scenes are the best part of the book.

What is wrong with the book is that Carpenter tries to cram too much into a short work. It is little more than a novella, yet he tries to fit in a mystery/crime plot, symbolic dreams, a story within the story, a hero's quest for self knowledge leading to regeneration, and a generally heartening message of hope for an assortment of outsiders (gays, pensioners, inhabitants of Saskatchewan). For some inexplicable reason, he gives one of the characters a cold and has him talk in a funny fashion (i.e., "Uh code id duh doze") for part of the novel.

Furthermore, Carpenter seems divided on two levels. First off, he is split between serious writing and popular fiction. The detective novel and the quest of the sensitive outsider for identity do not meld very easily. Sensitivity only works if it is cleverly concealed beneath a hard-boiled exterior and occasionally surfaces through irony and acts of nobility. Carpenter's hero does not have the requisite carapace of cynicism. He cannot take the prairie winter, let alone a punch. Second, the author is apparently not sure of whether he is writing a novel or a long short story. This work has the length of the long story and also the feel of one in the characterization and the incidents, but the plot, to work, needs a full-length novelistic treatment. There are too many characters, plot twists, and themes for the size of the work.

I do not enjoy writing such a negative review because Carpenter, as I have said, does show flashes of brilliance. If he sorts himself out (I hope he chooses to write serious novels) David Carpenter can become a voice to be reckoned with.

Don Precosky, College of New Caledonia, Prince George, B.C.
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