Wednesday, January 28, 2009

#10 - Confession

Perhaps it's apt to start off reviewing Lee Gowan's latest novel, Confession, with two of my own: 1) I've taken more than one creative writing class with the author and therefore admire him greatly both as a writer and as a teacher; and 2) I enjoyed the last book of his that I read, The Last Cowboy, very much so when I saw that he had a new book, I was excited.

But now, almost a week after finishing the book, I still have some mixed feelings -- not about the quality of the prose (which is excellent) or the fact that I enjoyed the book (which I did, immensely) -- about how to write the review. How much do I reveal about the plot without spoiling it? How do I characterize the interesting way the author has created the story? What kind of comps would I suggest?

Confession's unreliable and slightly off-kilter narrator, Dwight Froese, has changed his name, found himself a new job, and desperately wants to stay close to his daughter. Trapped by both circumstance and landscape in a life that truly presents him with little options for happiness, Dwight tells and retells the story of how he ended up in Toronto. Raised in Broken Head, Saskatchewan by a young mother and a much older father (a very complex situation if my instincts [and reading ability] are correct), Dwight has always had a particular relationship with God. Whether it was his father seeing Him one day profess his death by the hand of his son, or simply just the comfort he finds in his spirituality, Dwight's morals are dictated by a higher power. And because he sits outside of conventional society, in a way, Dwight can see, understand and imagine a world that's not necessarily the norm.

The tragedy in his story comes from the fall, as one might imagine, not necessarily from grace but maybe from reality or, rather, the clash of his own perspective with that of the rest of society. The novel is heady and spends a lot of time exploring Dwight's thoughts, actions and relationships. As it's told from his point of view, the book remains intense from start to finish. The voice feels wholly original but also harkens back to familiar characters -- pop culture icons like Travis Bickle -- in the sense that he's an outsider. Overall, both the strength and success of the novel lies in the author's ability to create a character that's at once as unlikeable as he is compelling. It's a delicate balance, a difficult one, but one worth the investment by the time the end of the book rolls around.

If I had to think of comparative titles, I'd say there's a touch of the fierceness from Theft, a little bit of the structure found within The Double Bind, and a fair bit of 1970s-early 80s New York cinema, think Scorsese and Badlands. Keep in mind, the novel opens with a quote from Dostoevsky, and there are existential themes of crime and punishment within as well. But I sure would love to know what anyone else you can probably tell, I'm still making up my mind about it all.


metro mama said...

I've never read Lee Gowan before, but was convinced to read this one by the sales conf presentation. I really, really enjoyed it. I thought it also had a David Adams Richards feel, in the characterization and the themes.

ragdoll said...

Interesting, because I really liked this book and I honestly can't say that I've ever liked a David Adams Richards book. He's probably my least favourite Can lit author.

Sandra said...

Sounds interesting. I have read both Theft and Double Bind and enjoyed them. Interestingly I about just about to read my first David Adams Richards for the Canada Reads challenge.