In his introduction to the necrofiles
, the first collection of Donna Lypchuk's columns for eye weekly
, William Burrill tells how he first met Donna Lypchuk. He was managing editor of the paper, looking for writers. One stood out, and he met her for lunch. One of the first things she did was whip out a picture of her breakfast, bacon and eggs at a greasy diner. It even had a title: "The Usual." "I offered her a weekly column on the spot," Burrill says.
Do you find the above anecdote intriguing? Amusing? Would you like more in a similar vein? If so, then you'll probably enjoy the necrofiles. If not-if, for example, you found yourself asking "Why bacon and eggs?" or "Why title it?"-then you probably won't. Lypchuk's columns are a lot like that fateful Polaroid: snapshots of the every day, taken with lots of attitude, tossed on the table with a sneer, but without always a clear-cut raison-d'Ítre.
Two questions loom large over the head of every autobiographical writer, I feel: "So?" and "And?" I'm not sure Donna Lypchuk answers either satisfactorily. Donna Lypchuk goes to an art opening. So? Donna Lypchuk's bike is stolen. And? Lypchuk suffers from migraine headaches, Lypchuk goes to the gynaecologist, Lypchuk's cat goes missing-well, you get the idea. To pull this sort of thing off, you have to be either a) an engaging, sympathetic character who can draw the universal from the everyday; or b) a brilliant prose stylist. I'm not sure Lypchuk is either. She's angry, but not funny; contemptuous of others but she rarely turns her spotlight of savage criticism on herself. Her humour is not of the self-deprecating variety. She's not willing to make herself vulnerable, the key to engaging your audience's sympathies. The picture that accompanies her column says it all, I think: her face hidden behind splayed fingers, a cigarette dangling from her lips. It says: "What are you looking at? You can't judge me, I'm judging you." Meanwhile, her William Burroughs/Kathy Acker-influenced stream-of-consciousness prose can be tough to take, at times, and sometimes downright silly: "Mom was right. Yessirree. Green eggs and ham that's what I yam in this Great Land where the operative phrases are `Let's do lunch' and `How about the David Cronenberg?'" etc.
I don't want to be too harsh. I know it must be tough to crank out a column every week, especially if what you're attempting is a "humour" column. And, as William Burrill says in the introduction, Donna Lypchuk is certainly a refreshing break from the usual run of humour columnists in Toronto (like that fool Linwood Barclay who writes for the Star) who writes "trite crap about their kids and their dogs and the funny thing that happened in the car on the way to the suburbs." But the question before us is: was it worth putting between two covers? Like all strong stuff, Lypchuk is best taken in small doses; her tone and attitude become grating over an entire book. She's getting better, the sign of a true artist. It says on the jacket copy that Lypchuk is working on a novel. I would look forward to that.