||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.