Drowning Man

by Dave Margoshes
ISBN: 189630057X

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A Review of: Drowning Man
by William Robertson

Olivia: What's a drunken man like, fool?

Clown: Like a drowned man, a fool, and a madman:
one draught above heat makes him a fool, the
second mads him, and the third drowns him.
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Olivia is talking about her uncle Toby Belch, a man who tries to make the action of Twelfth Night revolve around keeping open his lifeline of sack and spirits. In the old parlance, he's a reveller, but in our contemporary terms he could easily pass for an alcoholic, and consequently has a disease of the ego. Olivia's mourning, Malvolio's rules, Sir Andrew's money-they're all about Toby. Will these help or hinder his drinking?
That sodden egocentrism may be what's tormenting Wilf Sweeny, the protagonist in Reginan Dave Margoshes's new novel, Drowning Man. Certainly Sweeny is an alcoholic. We learn that very early. He's back in his hometown of Timber, B.C., writing the obituary column, on probation, at the paper he once owned. He's fallen far and has been astray across much of the globe and through a couple of marriages. His new problem starts when he recognizes a dead man's name and decides to do a little follow-up.
Nicholas Limousine is a name that gnaws at Sweeny through most of the novel. When the bearer of the name dies of mysterious-or maybe just natural-causes at a local hotel, Sweeny starts sniffing around.
If a man doesn't drive a car, fly in, or take the bus, how does he get into Timber, a city in the interior? The answer may be simpler than appearances suggest. Limousine has a wallet full of fancy credit cards, one of which turns out to be phony. The cops have the rest, but they're not talking. Then there's the suitcase, covered in stickers from cities around the world, many of them places where Sweeny himself has lived. There's also a list of cities Limousine called just before he died, places where Sweeny too had resided.
When the mourners start to roll in, none of them family but all of them a curious assortment of important friends from such places as Washington, D.C., Sweeny is downright flustered. He needs a drink, maybe two or three. Like many an alcoholic, Sweeny lets the wild dogs of his mind loose on just who this Limousine character may have been, tormented the whole time by the suspicion that it has something to do with him. Is he just following a lifetime of journalistic impulses and rooting after a good story, or is the world really coming to his door, the door of washed-up, alcoholic newspaperman Wilf Sweeny?
Paranoia is in the air of course. It's early 1970, according to the Beatles newsbulletins Margoshes inserts. Apollo 13 is about to have an accident, Vietnam is on people's minds, and Richard Nixon's face peers out of the papers. Is Limousine a spy? Did he work for the CIA?
Then, to make Sweeny even more convinced he's at the center of something, and in even more desperate need of a drink, a hippie's prayer of a very young, blonde beauty named July throws herself at him. She's ready to give him anything he wants; she insists, actually. It's all grist for the novel she's writing. Is she crazy? Is poor, old Sweeny crazy? Is Margoshes crazy asking us to believe this most clichd of all male fantasies?
Irrespective of who's crazy, July becomes Sweeny's companion in his efforts to discover Limousine's identity and whether or not he has some connection to the deceased man.
As an "almost mystery," as one piece of publicity calls it, Drowning Man is mostly a page-turner with a unique and engaging plot about what kind of odd growths may spring up when we scatter our youthful seeds. When Sweeny wanders a bit too much in the novel's middle, so does the narrative flow, and near the end Sweeny reiterates one too many times how he can answer a nagging question. Then there are a few cases of adjective-itis-"her ostrich-like head bobbing at the end of the long, cylindrical neck that rose out of the white fluted collar of her severe black dress"-but the line about the undertaker who looked as if "he had dressed himself following instructions from a correspondence course for funeral attendants" is bang on.
Sure, it's not a mystery in the accepted sense of the term, but as an evocation of a time and place, and particularly of a newsroom through a lonely, aging man's eyes as he tries hard to keep his head above the tide of alcohol, and figure out just what he may be responsible for, Drowning Man is a good yarn.
Incidentally, Margoshe's is one of two novels by Saskatchewan writers this publishing season about washed-up, alcoholic newspapermen living in British Columbia. Lois Simmie's What I'm Trying To Say Is Goodbye is the other.

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