A Johnny Novel, by the ex-Canada Council arts officer Robert Richard (Mercury, 103 pages, $15.50 paper), goes to the other extreme: it is so surreal, philosophical, and stylistically daunting that only the most adventurous readers will be tempted by it. Its three short sections embrace enormous themes: the relationship of reality and language, the conflict between mind and body, the inseparability of space and time.
The basic premise is this: Johnny, a young boy-six or seven-is murdered and left abandoned in a field. Yet over the next few days he attends school-post-death-where he tells the story of his life to his teacher and classmates, who sit enthralled. What they're really listening to is Johnny's recounting of his engagement with the universe.
A Johnny Novel can, in many respects, be considered a long prose poem-one recommended for those who like their poetry and philosophy blended, and in large doses.