Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Danforth Review reviews ONCE

Reviewed by Peter Davidson.

When I read The City & The Pillar in 1996 I sought the book out because of a review I’d read in which the book was described as unsentimental. It was the first time I’d ever heard this word to describe a book. At that stage of my life I thought any sort of writing was a form of sentimentality; there is something to be said about casting away navel gazing urban middle class malaise and trying to get to the heart of what counts, even if its awkward. There is something to be said about doing it almost sixteen times in a debut collection.

Hamilton, Ontario-born Rebecca Rosenblum’s Once is an achievement and a bit of a signal post for Biblioasis. The press is proud of the book, and goes out of its way to let you know. Rosenblum’s writing is popular because it doesn’t seem to be put on. Rosenblum’s writing is a success and is excellent because it attempts and succeeds at being heard. It is concise, loquacious and brilliant. It does not mimic the prehistoric 1990s sarcasm genre of fiction or attempt to partake in the cheeky rash of David Sedaris worshippers/ wannabes who roam the hipster halls of CanLit boy writing. Her language is clean, gritty and at times poetic. Her dialogue is sharp and when required, arrowhead cruel.

Like all fiction collections, there are flaws. Some of the stories tend to meander on and on with their capable hard working and hard thinking characters but its not enough. The inconsequential actions appear inconsequential, bordering on self-absorption or vacuous physicality. There are characters here that, no matter how well written they are, are simply not charismatic enough to sustain interest. However, because Rosenblum writes them so well, I am convinced that I am not interested in them. Like being described a person and thinking, wow, I never want to meet them. Thankfully almost the entire collection is brimming with interesting people.

The best part of the 16 stories that make up Once is they vary in tone, style, POV and subject matter; for the most part being hyper-melodramas or expanded vignettes of the working class. But it’s the intricacy that Rosenblum uses in her work that makes any skeptic of her trail-blazing debut balk in acceptance. It isn’t just working poor romantic situation we’re reading, nor the arbitrary pedestrian observation but a genuine concern for detail and a deliberate attempt to clean the reader’s road as they set themselves down to witness her character’s journey.

In "Linh Lai", and "Pho Mi 99", you get the sense that Rosenblum, winner of the Metcalf-Rooke Award, really worked and suffered to create a thoughtful and authentic separation of state between her the conscious creator, and the non-existing cerebral core of her characters. A marvelous book, full of lively rage and occasionally dense, always daring and perhaps most importantly, in today’s young urban writing showcasing an onslaught carnival of "you know" and other cheap turns of phrases, Once seems original and genuine.

No comments: