ALIBI: A NOVEL.
Toronto, Stoddart, c1983.
Toronto, Stoddart, c1983.
Volume 12 Number 6
William William Dorfendorf, Dorf, the protagonist in Robert Kroetsch's most recent novel, is employed by Jack Deemer, a fabulously rich, reclusive, Calgary oilman, to scour the earth for strange, not to say bizarre, collections: stuffed tigers, ceremonial masks, Sicilian dominoes, shrunken heads, Japanese armour, aphrodisiacs, painted tiles, carved Buddhas and wooden wheels, to mention but a few. Dorf s latest assignment is to find his Hughes-like boss a spa. He enlists Karen Strike, a friend-cum-lover who happens to be interested in filming a documentary on soon-to-be-forgotten spas, to help him. The quest (and it is precisely that) begins at the hot springs of Banff where Dorf encounters Big Julie Mag-nuson, Deemer's mistress. In the hotel's mineral pool, hidden from the other bathers by fog and falling snow, Dorf and Julie float together, their heads only inches apart above the surface, their bodies intimately joined below. As they draw apart, Julie threatens Dorf with death should he succeed in finding a spa for Deemer. The rest of the novel has the reader following Dorf, filled with ambivalence, torn between his passion and his fear, globetrotting from spa to spa (Bath in England, Luso in Portugal, Laspi in Greece), in simultaneous search of/flight from Big Julie.
Kroetsch's Dorf is a marvellously outrageous amalgam of Donleavy's Ginger Man and Amis's Lucky Jim. The same irrepressible, anarchic spirit infuses his being, the same spontaneous lunacy characterizes his thoughts and actions, his words and deeds. (One uproarious episode has Dorf caked with primordial ooze, playing cards with the habitués of the mud bath in Laspi.) And yet Dorf is not simply a wild man. His extreme, sometimes pathetic, vulnerability ("We cannot have what we want, and we hurt."), his manic absorption with the human lot (". . .desire and guilt and the old hunger to connect, somewhere in the darkness"), explain his craziness, reveal the full measure of his humanity. For whatever else he is, Dorf is Everyman, Adam expelled: born in Edenwolf.he is sent forth by an all-powerful being on a search that takes him to the four corners of the world, although it ends, ironically, in his own back yard, at Deadman's Spring, Deemer's longed-for spa, in the Canadian Rockies.
Here, at last, at the healing place, the one source where life itself is reaffirmed, where the "dead" are reborn, "spring" back anew, Dorf must attempt to resolve life's final, maddening riddle. Eliot's lines from "East Coker" come to mind: "In my end is my beginning." Deadman's Spring or Finnegan's Wake: "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's," Joyce tells us. Though Dorf is home again, the wolf (Julie's threat made real in the sinister presence of Manuel de Madeiros, the Portuguese dwarf who follows Dorf to the Rockies) is still very much at the door, the serpent remains in the garden. Death cannot be denied or eluded, grudgingly accommodated perhaps, somehow accepted and understood, one hopes. Dorf puts this paradox in his own inimitable way: "Life is unendurable. The trouble is, I enjoy it."
And enjoy the novel you will, for it is a mature, rich, fascinating work. With Dorf, Kroetsch has created a most memorable character whose exploits entertain, whose concerns demand attention and reflection. Dorf s energy and wit are infectious. His directness, his uninhibited earthiness are refreshing, liberating. However, due to the sexually explicit nature of much of the work, certain parents/ teachers might reasonably feel it is inappropriate for a school library. On the other hand, I recommend it most heartily for public library adult collections. Robert Kroetsch is a master storyteller. He deserves wide critical acclaim, a large readership and above all, high regard. Hurrah for Edenwolf and environs! Long live Dorf!
Patrick Dunn, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.
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