by Don Nichol
PATRICK ROSCOE MUST have an enviable biographical entry: author; world traveller ("World traveller he / Served human liberty" as Yeats said of that mind-traveller Swift). After his first book, the well received collection of short stories Beneath the Western Slopes, in 1987, Roscoe achieved Penguinization with Birthmarks in 1990. Then came the novel God's Peculiar Care (199 1), which has been distributed on both sides of the Atlantic. A 10-year veteran-recipient of various awards, including a first prize for best short story in the CBC Literary Competition, Roscoe divides his time between Vancouver, Sevilla, and Morocco.
Now Love Is Starving for Itself transports us to a mythical Mexican village where, as the title suggests, people gnaw on one another's nerve endings like cannibals on a bit of gristle. In its inception, Love Is Starving for Itself
has been many things. Genre distinctions are blurred in the publicity material: the cover designer had it as "a novel" at one stage (before the label was blacked out on the galley proofs); the second volume of a trilogy (following Beneath the Western Slopes),
a work of fiction (according to the copyright page); and finally a collection of 11 "pieces" (in the acknowledgements) gathered from Canadian Fiction Magazine, the New Quarterly, Tickle Ace, and other journals. Once you get past the "Considerations" to Sinead O'Connor, Rickie Lee Jones, the Canada Council, and the Ontario Arts Council, there isn't a hint of Canadianness in Roscoe's accent, as though the writer is an extremely faithful translator of a Spanish diary.
Whatever it is, Love Is Starving for Itself is a lyrically passionate, deeply probing, sometimes unbearably intimate confluence of Marquezean myths. Set in a world seemingly outside time, this collection is written as if Roscoe were an itinerant exchange student who visited a Mexican family, but never left, becoming instead an ageless fly on the wall, witnessing the anguished fantasies of the Lopez family over generations.
"The Beginning of the World" aptly sets the scene: small town not far from big city, but kept small by the unfulfilled promises at election time of bringing the sort of roads that would turn the town into something else. So the town remains vaguely suspended between the time of the conquest and the modem age of travelling carnivals.
"China" takes us into the realm of little girls' fantasies where dolls become human, and humans become horrifying, doing for dolls what Anthony Hopkins once did for ventriloquists' dummies. "Love's Sweet Olor" is the tormenting story of a battered woman who goes back, repeatedly, to her batterer. Letting his nose run away with his thoughts, Roscoe launches into a long catalogue of smells, some of which might please wild cats and "rats whose noses quivered with excitement." When the husband finally dies, the wife can't admit that he's dead. Like the townsfolk of Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," the neighbours discover the dubious delights of being nosy.
"Abuelita" tells of the swings and roundabouts of grandmother's final visit. The title story sends us high above the world on a ferris wheel where the Lopez girls swing suspended, never having to get off, never having to pay, where the man at the controls dispenses rides with arbitrary aloofness.
While Roscoe lingers a bit too long in places, his creation of this foreign yet familiar, male-dominated yet exquisitely feminine, mundane yet mythical, enduring yet all too fragile way of life is well worth discovering.