A Short Journey by Car

by Liam Durcan
ISBN: 1550651897

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A Review of: A Short Journey by Car
by Eric Miller

Liam Durcan's Short Journey by Car is a masculine book, in the elementary sense that the book's protagonists are usually men. The masculinities embodied in this collection of short stories are appealingly off-kilter. Though for the most part the characters aren't avant-garde in their predilections, the premises, whether ethical or aesthetic, governing the way in which they are drawn palpably liberate:; Durcan allows his formally inventive imagination to range from Stalinist Russia to contemporary Windsor, Ontario. His preference is to experiment and often surprise.
Liam Durcan opens many of the stories of his Short Journey by Car with striking sentences: "The real problem is that no one knows how to operate a water-cannon anymore"; "Raymond knew that something was wrong when the taxi driver asked him if they were getting close"; "It all started when something unusual fell out of Gerald's ear"; "I didn't know you could die from a bleeding nose." Many of the stories, cerebrally conceived, revolve around a singular idea. What would it be like to be Stalin's dentist? How would your first experience of the Lumire brothers' cinema feel? How would you go about eulogizing a pioneer in the field of machine translation? Despite this miscellaneousness, Durcan's collection doesn't feel centrifugal; what unites the stories is a venturesome intelligence, often engaged by the tumultuous confluence of disparate discourses. Stalin's dentist conceives of his dangerous patient as both a set of carious teeth and a killer. The unprecedented Lumire film is shown in the bickering milieu of a French restaurant. "Nolan, An Exegesis" features a young Irishman who appears to have "the image of Christ across his damned tongue." This story incorporates both medical and religious interpretations of the phenomenon; most interesting are the manipulations of a Malcolm-McLaren-like provocateur, who profits from the sensational ambiguity of the young man's condition. "Generator" provides the text of a memorial address for Marcus Epsom, academic contriver of the Stochastic Iterative Narrative Generator (SING). The Epsom piece is a parody of theory-laden poetical enterprises. Despite his love of technology, the late Marcus Epsom apparently valued reader response-one of his fans responded by assassinating him.
My favourite story is Durcan's "American Standard". It is among the most fully fleshed-out and naturalistic of the narratives collected in A Short Journey by Car. Wayne is hauling illicit oversized toilets from Windsor to Detroit in the irritating company of Nathan, a character who manages simultaneously to be brilliant and boring. The image of Niagara Falls recurs. The American entrepreneur who receives the delivery of fourteen litre toilets expostulates, "Wayne, people want to hear that water, that Niagara." The French exile Ren-Franois de Chateaubriand witnessed Niagara Falls in the 1790s. He was impressed by the sound of the cataract, and wrote of it, "The Scriptures often compare a nation to mighty waters; this was a dying nation which, robbed of a voice by its death throes, was hurling itself into eternity." Durcan's "American Standard" reads like a lament for Canada, but the vitality of the representation rebuts the verdict that it seems to advance.

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