Dying for Veronica

by Matthew Remski,
224 pages,
ISBN: 1895837405

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First Novels - What's with Young Men These Days?
by Eva Tihanyi

Finally, there is Dying for Veronica (Insomniac, 224 pages, $18.99 trade paper), Matthew Remski's challenging novel of sex and religion-incest and Catholicism, specifically. Veronica is the unnamed narrator's older sister-the older sister from hell in many respects. She introduces her brother to masturbation, pornography, and intercourse, and becomes his teacher in rebellion against the Church. The setting for their childhood is Toronto's St. Michael's Cathedral, where their alcoholic father is the sacristan and their mother repairs the stained glass and does the Cathedral laundry.

The book is the narrator's long lamentation to Veronica: by turns mystical, vulgar, lyrical, annoying, obsessive. Plot has been sidestepped in favour of uncorralled rambling dependent primarily upon association. The seventy-eight short chapters are designed to shock in both subject-matter and design. Various font styles and sizes are used, according to the publisher's blurb, to push "beyond the conventional novel to create a new look to the printed word in which the medium is as important as the story." While at times interesting, this visual hodge-podge proves in the end to be more distracting than useful.

Remski certainly knocks himself out trying to be unconventional, but often he seems to break rules merely for the sake of breaking them. The overall effect is gimmicky, the writer's bag of tricks dumped over page after page of densely worded prose. The language itself often gets in the way, Remski continually reminding the reader that he is Remski the Writer with a capital W.

Images are key-graven images, self-images, people's images in others' eyes, cultural images-and postmodern cleverness is abundant. At one point the narrator remarks: "Veronica, I have been writing these true things for sixty-four days from the same room. I ask for no remuneration. Writing is not a profession any more than bleeding is. Those who do it for money are much bigger liars than I. That's why they get hired by news agencies." Are those who write out of literary theory, whose linguistic selfconsciousness overshadows every aspect of content, any more truthful?

In an interview published in Blood & Aphorisms, Remski said: "If people recognize that formalistic conventions are the basis for everything that is imprisoning in our culture then that becomes the breakthrough moment for producing good art. Content is entirely secondary." A questionable argument at best. Form and content are yin and yang; in art, attention to both is necessary.


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