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Believing is seeing
by Mark Czamecki

I was listening to the title track from Paul Simon's Graceland the other night while reading David McFadden's new novel, Canadian Sunset. Just as Simon was singing "I'm going to Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee," I read McFadden's line, "I visited Graceland in Memphis late last night." Canadian Sunset is full of coincidences like that, and, like most coincidences, they're not there by chance. In the cosmically integrated world McFadden has conjured up, nothing has meaning unless it is repeated, reincarnated, or reconnected in the golden light of transcendental consciousness. On the spiritual odyssey of Walter J. Littlewood, helicopter salesman and would-be writer, believing is seeing; in the country of the faithful, the third-eyed man is king ....
Hey, I was kidding. I didn't really read that line about Graceland at the same time Simon sang it. Just one of those liberties writers take with readers - see, for example, Canadian Sunset, page 88:
At that point a strange thing happened to me: I grabbed the fish, popped it in city mouth and swallowed it whole, still flipping. I looked at the kid. He was standing there with his eyes spinning. "Are you crazy" he said, stammering, taking a step backwards.
"That was good. Catch me another one."
Hey, I was kidding. I didn't really eat the fish. I didn't even think about it till now, typing out this story.
The I/eye is an amazing thing. Instant credibility is one of its most reliable virtues, the roving I in the Kerouac tradition especially so. If I document journeys in the B.C. interior, the Toronto subway, and New Mexico in photographic: detail, with accurate place names and geographical phenomena, the odds are you'll believe I was really there: after all, why spend so much effort imagining something that is real?
Personally I haven't documented travels to these places, but Walter Little wood has: if fact, they form the only readily visible structuring principle in Canadian Sunset. Section I, B.C.: Guided by Zamzam, his steak-loving vegetarian Tibetan guru, Walter and his Japanese artist girl friend Hiroko visit old buddies, make new ones, and watch their close friend, famous folk-singer George Duckworth, blow his brains out. Walter and Hiroko are breaking up, but they don't quite know it yet. Section II, Toronto: Walter rapidly loses interest in helicopters, wants to be a writer. Hiroko is elsewhere, moving farther and farther away. Walter rides the Toronto subway system, having assigned each station a hexagram from the I Ching ("a device for using chance operations to search the city for mystical and romantic illuminetions"). At the end he sights a dead anaconda by the lakeshore, but zoo of ficials claim they are a common optical illusion at that point on the beach. Section III, New Mexico: Blessed by Dixie Moon, an infallible psychic whose spirit guide is Carl Jung, Walter borrows a Maserati, experiences an ecstatic lunar eclipse, resigns himself to Hiroko's absence, and is reborn as a writer.
So much for plot. You should know too that the chapter heads are assorted quotes from Wait Kelly, Sophocles, Sri Chinmoy, Roland Barthes, and the like. (Any resemblance between a chapter's head and body is of course purely coincidental.) And as final disproof that Canadians are incapable of esoterica, Walter describes an incident as "something out of a Naim Kattan novel" with such casual aplomb that you feel you actually know who Naim Kattan is, may even have read one of his novels, and couldn't care less about CanLit in jokes.
The overall effect of this high-minded spirituality is strangely light-headed and cuddly. McFadden packs in so much engaging incident that there's never time to get bored, much less decipher what his farrago of attenuated koans is all about. Littlewood is a friendly and impossibly knowledgeable guide, more a cluster of sympathetic attitudes than a human being, but that's all right too. Nothing can be said about Canadian Sunset that Canadian Sunset doesn't already say about itself, most notably this advice to Walter from a woman into selfmutilation: "Don't stop writing about the banal, but always make sure your readers will know that you're doing it with holiness." Many former helicopter salesman could do a lot worse.

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