CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 23. . . .February 15, 2013
Not With a Bang.
Gail Sidonie Sabat.
Kingsville, ON: Magpie Books/Palimpest Press, 2012.
119 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Sheila Janzen.
Jan read Eliot again and again. Struggled with the intent. The subtext. The words. And then he was seduced. Awed by the images. Couldn't believe what he was reading and how he felt when he read. He slammed the book shut. Got up and paced the apartment. He wanted to talk to his mom, but she was teaching class again tonight. No one to talk to. Certainly not Dad. Not Jan's stoner pals. No one would understand.
He found the telephone directory and flipped through the white pages. How the hell do you spell Glamorrah? Two mms? Two rrs? Finally, his fumbling finger found it. And Jan shakily dialed the only option he could think of.
"Al Coxworth, please."
"One moment." The phone seemed to go dead in his ear. Then a ringing.
"Yeah?" Al's voice was crabby.
Jan grinned. "Al? Hi, it's Jan."
"Jan? Hell, Jan. It's 10:00 pm."
"Did I wake you?"
"I don't go to bed until midnight. At least. No, the news is on. You scared the bejesus out of me, is all."
"Al, I read the poem. I read the Eliot. 'The Hollow Men.' I…I couldn't put it down, Al."
"I sort of got it before, but today I really got it. At least, I think I did. I…He blows me away, Al."
"Yeah, Eliot'll do that. First time around. Fiftieth."
"Jesus, Al. 'Not with a bang but a whimper,' Al."
"Yeah, I know. Guess it does matter."
"Whether you're a Jew, a Pope-kisser, or atheist. A straw man or a thinking man. A dead man or a live man. Literally. Figuratively."
Brimming with teenage angst and resentment, Jan is a 17-year-old kid in trouble with the law. Forced to serve community service hours at a senior's centre after pleading guilty to a marijuana possession offense, Jan finds himself paired with a spirited old man, Al. Initially at odds, the two characters become friends. As their relationship develops, Jan adopts Al as a mentor and father figure. Jan begins to envision myriad of possibilities through Al's guidance, expanding his scope into the world around him.
Readers meet Jan, an only child and product of divorce, living with his mother in Ontario. He has grown distant and disconnected from his mother, from literature, from writing and ideas. His father, remarried, keeps limited and intermittent involvement with Jan. This loss of connection is at the forefront of Jan's mind and is attributed to his careless behaviour.
From the moment he meets Al, Jan begins to re-evaluate his reckless decisions, falls in love again with books, writing, and a young girl. The driving force of this novel is the relationship between Al and Jan. Old and young. Contentment and struggle. And, at the heart, is a love for literature.
Gail Sidonie Sobat evokes a sense of teenage angst rife within today's society and so prevalent in the source material: T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Man. This novel is riddled with a variety of classic literature infused in such a playfully innovative format. Sobat's framing device of Jan's bad dreams is a captivating mélange of past and present events. The use of powerful and active verbs, concise and poetic pacing of prose, allows the words do the heavy lifting, keeping the reader engaged.
Sheila Janzen is a writer in the MFA in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, SK.
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