Atli's Tale

by Michael Olito,
193 pages,
ISBN: 0888012047

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First Novels - Fashion, Sharks, and Anger
by Eva Tihanyi

The same can be said of Mike Olito's Atli's Tale (Turnstone, 20 pages, $16.95 paper). Atli, born in Iceland, raised in Canada, and now living in England, is lonely and depression-prone. Up until a month ago, he worked as a miner in the old Stanley mine in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the famous disaster occurred in 1909. After witnessing an accidental death in the mine, he quits his job, takes to spending his time in pubs. Eventually, he meets Rose, also Canadian, a photographer who has come abroad to study art. Her favourite subject is nude men, and when she asks Atli to pose, he agrees. Although he finds the process unnerving, he feels exhilarated by her enthusiasm.

As the relationship progresses, Rose moves into Atli's flat. He becomes interested in art, takes up drawing, attends art classes. For him, "drawing the model could never become totally aesthetic. There was always the presence of sexuality that extended even to the feel of the charcoal." He recognizes that "by getting deep enough into the physical, you could reach the soul inside." Rose encourages him, but stops creating her own art and ends up leaving. (Atli finds out later that she's married to a Canadian professor who's been footing her monthly bills.)

Throughout all this, as the love story unfolds, Atli has dreams and hallucinations involving the Stanley mining disaster, the Viking invasion of England, and the Lambtons, a historic British family. He wonders if he is remembering past lives. Unfortunately, the two plot lines (the love story and the past lives) don't mesh well enough, and the result is an overloaded narrative that can't quite get off the ground because of its own weight.


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