||Old Masters, New Forgeries
by Pat Barclay
EARLY IN Sharon Sparling`s new novel, there`s a scene in which Greer, the young heroine, and Connie, her antique-dealing grandfather, discuss the morality of passing off fakes and forgeries as genuine art. "If I find a good fake and a gullible buyer with more money than brains, I`ll palm it off as Hitler`s booty" explains Connie, adding: "Don`t worry. I only say that to
people who deserve to be cheated . " After he identifies one such buyer as "an expatriate German living in Argentina," Greer accepts his reasoning "by an act of faith."
It`s tempting to see in this exchange a subtle message to the reader, who by now is wondering just what the heck is going on. 1 mean, can anyone read more than a few pages of this novel without twigging that it`s a species of artistic forgery? No prizes will be awarded for identifying the Canadian "Old Master" whose style is copied here:
Years later, when I learned that his body had been discovered sprawled on a settee in the window of the shop, a bejeweled Turkish dagger stuck in his chest and a wad of hundred-dollar bills jammed in his mouth, I was neither surprised nor displeased.
Readers in search of an explanation may find one in Greer`s description of the "favourite game` played by "daddy," who spends his days in an attic aerie with a bottle of gin and an endless supply of videotapes: Once ... he ... asked me to watch (for comparative purposes) the three movie versions of a Damon Runyon short story: Little Miss Marker, 1934 ... Sorrowful Jones, 1949 ... and Forty Pounds of Trouble, 1963 ... Then ... he insisted on playing the game ... reproducing, rewriting, and recasting the film. By implication, then, if "daddy`s favourite game` can be played with films, why not with the novel?
Sparling`s sensitive first novel, The Glass Mountain (1985), followed the growth to maturity and artistic fulfilment of an outsider, a neurotic young girl from an eccentric family who finds support in the love of a grandparent. Beneath its luxuriant surface, the plot of The Nest Egg parallels this closely, and is even complicated, as in The Glass Mountain, by a "stupidity problems" that prevents the heroine from making an important discovery one that has been obvious to the reader for some time. Sparling has handled the "reproducing, rewriting and recasting" of her basic material so effectively, however, that the "remake` could easily be mistaken for an original production.
Her approach gets top marks for daring, but unfortunately, unless you`re keen on melodrama, the main interest of The Nest Egg lies in comparing it with The Glass Mountain. Adapting the concept of the film remake to fiction may seem like a good idea. In practice, however, Sparling`s one-woman show demonstrates that however well a writer may duplicate another`s
style, assuming the personality behind that style is a next-to-impossible feat. Imagine a Robertson Davies-like novel without a jot of the wit and wisdom of Davies himself, and you have a fair estimation of The Nest Egg.