Katia-the interviewer-cum-reviewer: "I like the book more each time I read it." Which is what I was saying in yesterday's post. This is a book you read more than once. It keeps drawing me back to it (the last time being yesterday, hence the post), if only for the pleasure of dipping in for a few pages. It's as gratifying, as pleasurable, as a back-rub from Janet Jones Gretzky. Not that I've had one of those. Yet. But an impoverished publisher can dream, can't he?
So, please, go out and buy the damned book before Chapters/Indigo sends them all back.
In which I flirt with Lorna
By Lorna Jackson
Biblioasis, 93 pages, $16.95
Lorna! Oh. Sorry.
- Mouthful of hair, sorry.
- I'm used to the two-cheek Montreal kiss. Leads to accidental making out when I try it with West-Coasters.
- The West Coast doesn't kiss. Flirting's transgression enough.
- Were you trying to be transgressive with this book, a literary incarnation of flirting?
- Not particularly. Just to show ... Just a coffee for me. This is a great old dive.
- Do you have The Macallan? 15? 21? Thanks.
- This was one of only three that got licences after Prohibition, the other two long gone. Vancouver's reinvented itself 14 times since we played here. "I lived in the city when it meant something, before it meant so little." I say that in the book.
- In Flirt, every short story is a mock-interview - with musicians, athletes, writers - cobbled together from real interviews, research, biographies, but each piece crescendos to reveal the interviewer. Like your first collection and your novel, the primacy of character is what drives the story. The tone is similarly edgy, too; you describe breastfeeding as being stabbed with a chainsaw.
- Alice Munro takes exception to the feasibility of that comparison.
- You've always done violence well, the latent violence of how hard it is to live a hard life well. You strike a risky balance between tenderness and honesty. Your writing revs. Mark Jarman summarized it as Hamlet meets Baywatch.
- Mark's a hoot.
- You wouldn't have wanted to flirt with him in this one? Or Hamlet, for that matter? David Hasselhoff?
- Nah. Flirting with Mark, we'd've ended up eloping to Vegas in robot suits or something. Hamlet's too wordy wordy wordy, and as for the Hass, I don't like men with bigger breasts than mine. Anyway, you're here with Lorna the character. Ask me about the interviews. Lorna the writer is home watching the game.
- Right, yes. The writer is not a tube of toothpaste, sayeth Atwood.
- But I toy with that autobiographical distance.
- Lorna-the-writer's last book was about hockey. In Flirt, we see you cruising around with Bobby Orr in his Cadillac, kayaking with your real-life pretend boyfriend Markus Naslund, getting a backrub from Janet Gretzky. What is it about hockey?
- You know, it's the facing opposition, often against the odds, and then someone at last does something. It's not unlike an interview, with a different set of players.
- Constructing the self by confronting the other. And the self is the story? I was concerned initially about the lack of linear plot in Flirt. I was worried too about keeping track of who's saying what. Like in some unattributed dialogue, when you find yourself counting backward to figure out the speaker. But the voices here are clear, just idiosyncratic enough. And the through line is Lorna-the-character's need to tell her stories, the way everybody has stories, plural.
- Yeah. To quote myself quoting Richard Ford, whose answers to the mock interview are lifted from a real interview I did with him.
- But your questions were different?
- The character I construct, her thoughts on writing, art, fatherhood, daughterhood, teenage love and rebellion, all that is elaborated against those real answers, yes.
- What was your favourite mock-terview? The Janet Gretzky is hilarious; she's so self-helpish, repressed. Has abolished the first-person singular pronoun. Says gosh.
- Totally wanted me.
- Totally. And Alice Munro - "Maybe it's flirting you smell, not manure." Your frustration with how she wrote Dance of the Happy Shades while her girls were napping ...
- ... while my daughter wailed, "Come get me, you slut," as soon as I sat down with a pad of paper.
- You have a little crush on Alice Munro. That's probably the most seductive interview, you coyly reminding her of the end of Floating Bridge ...
- Great story; she dances so much so fast, without her "tights getting saggy."
- You seemed sweet on Benjamin Britten, too. By that last piece, the protagonist-cum-interviewer has told her whole story, in subtle bits that emerge organically, if somewhat megalomaniacally, through each conversation: the older sister who died young, the father who ineptly faked his own death, the string of musician boyfriends, the end of alcoholism. What's Britten like?
- Meticulously attentive, even posthumously, waiting for the world to amaze him, wondering what instrument he'll use to mimic the happy hens cavorting roosterless nearby. He held my hands, you know.
- Yeah, I liked that part. It was sincere; the interview rings true, sketches the subject exactly while touching on your own ars poetica.
- So it works, the character of the interviewer?
- Perfect. I like the book more each time I read it. She's a great character, flawed in all the right places, the kind of hard knocks all women would dare to rub up against, and sympathetic because it is hard, but you live it anyway. No self-pity ...
- Gawd no. Suck it up, snarls my Don Cherry-esque alter ego.
- You get the secondary characters, too -- you explain an absent God and do a full portrait of the dead sister in three sentences. A cutlery-coddling husband. Chelios. Thurber the spaniel.
- The story emerges from those details. Storytelling, like interviewing, is about the ability to lead your audience to a different perspective.
- You ask Britten whether "superficial effects are the will of the material, rather than the ego of the artist." Alluding to writing as well as to his Three Divertimenti?
- A writer has to listen to the writing, to the characters, in order to know the story and how to tell it.
- A good listener, in short. Like a musician, like ... You used to be a bassist, right? Good listeners. And bassists are hot.
- Are you flirting with me?
Katia Grubisic bats her eyelashes and drinks reasonable scotch in Montreal. Her first collection of poems, What If Red Ran Out, was published this spring.