The Time of the Kingfishers

by David Watmough,
ISBN: 1551520087

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Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Glenn Sumi

ALTHOUGH IT'S ONLY a slim paperback, David Watmough's The Time of the Kingfishers (Arsenal Pulp, 194 pages, $14.95 paper) feels endless. Trivial details, quaint observations, and meandering chit-chat clutter each page, making this one of the most exhausting books I've ever read.

The novel spans several decades in the life of Davey Bryant (the author's alter ego), his partner Ken, and their extended family of friends. But not much happens. Oh, there are marital problems, health problems, and slight scandals. Two husbands, assumed to be heterosexual, turn out to be bisexual. The friends visit Europe, bicker, reminisce, and complain about parents, spouses, and children; then they return home to Vancouver. But because these scenes are disconnected, there's little incentive to keep reading.

Lacking a firm plot and controlling narrator (someone who could bridge these events together in an artful way), the book feels less like a novel than a memoir penned by a pedantic, prattling uncle. Watmough continually uses three words where one will do. He also has an annoying affection for multisyllabic beauts like "pusillanimous" and "bibulous." These words, along with his constant use of exclamation marks and precious witticisms ("She may [be] a nurse or an elementary schoolteacher, the sociological Sherlock Holmes in me decided"), betray an insecurity with language. Only a writer unsure about his prose resorts to exclamation marks!

Watmough does, however, offer some brief insights into the lives of women and gay men over the past decades: and buried in his ramblings are several mildly interesting themes, I like the progress of friendship over time. But a more skilful writer exploring similar terrain -- like Alice Munro -could distill this material into a 30-page story.


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