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Brief Reviews
by Roger Burford Mason

EVER SINCE I began reviewing books, I have wanted to be able to use the word "picaresque." The publication of Trevor Ferguson`s fourth novel, The True Life Adventures of Sparrow Drinkwater (HarperCollins, 404 pages, $24.95 cloth), now permits it. From the story`s first pages, in which Sparrow Drinkwater`s fantasy-ridden mother conceives him - sired by a raven in a Georgia swamp, as she believes - to the concluding grim and ironic humour of this long and engaging narrative feast, Ferguson reinforces his claim to be one of the best of Canada`s new generation of writers. This is a novel that winds intestinally but never rambles, and encompasses much, and in much detail, without ever becoming static or boring. Picaresque indeed. But first things first. The "true" of the title is questionable, unless you believe that people can be sired by birds; that grown men and women can fly; or that excavating undetected but extensive tunnels under downtown Montreal is possible. Sparrow`s adventures are Byzantine in their complexity, the product of a preposterously vigorous imagination, macabre wit, skilfully managed "business," and subtle ironies that are cause for, and prompt, reflection on the human condition. But there`s more, for although Sparrow`s "true life adventures" are an imaginative quest for love and truth and roots, they are based (and not too obliquely) on fact. Ferguson has taken for his framework the Norman LeBlanc financial scandal of the 1970s, and let his invention run ... and run, and run. Ferguson reminds me of John Kennedy O`Toole, and Sparrow`s adventures of O`Toole`s wonderful A Confederacy of Dunces. I intend a compliment to both in saying so.

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