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HomeAnonymousDizzying duo of narratives deft, daring – Winnipeg Free Press

Dizzying duo of narratives deft, daring – Winnipeg Free Press


Oddly, you should watch the movie first.

Not the filmed version of this novel. No, rather the movie that drives this book: John Ford’s iconic western, The Searchers (1956), a film relentlessly propelled by the inimitable (so to speak) John Wayne.

Soldiers, Hunters, Not Cowboys will tell the story of that celebrated film if you need it, one routinely plopped into those silly “greatest ever” lists. It’s worth your time.

Author Aaron Tucker is a stunningly accomplished PhD candidate at York University, somehow having carved out the time to publish not one but three books of poetry, not one but two academic monographs on the cinema, and not one but now two novels. His burgeoning oeuvre is impossible to categorize as it is so varied and yet so rich, now almost purely about movies, now prodding the philosophical impacts of the internet, now contemplating the nature of human expansion, now recoiling from masculinity and violence, now engaging all of the above in dizzying fashion.

His first novel conveys this tenor, and is currently apt because of its subject’s coincidental relevance this month. Y: Oppenheimer, Horseman of Los Alamos (2018) is an imaginative and chillingly beautiful foray into the mind and loves of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

This second novel has a similar heart. It is cloven in two, split exactly down the middle of its compact 150 pages. That divide, however, is not just in page count. Instead, it is a gulf of tone, of mood, of pacing and even of genre.

In Part I, Fathers, an unnamed young man hangs out with his recently former girlfriend, Melanie, at her apartment in contemporary downtown Toronto, somewhere around the old Eaton Centre. The two drink a bit and chat a lot. It is Mel who helms the conversation, almost frantically trying to tell her ex-lover about The Searchers. She wants to convey to him the splendour of every feature of the film but also to account for her conflicted passion for its protagonist, Wayne. She adores him, even as she is so fully aware of his tragic flaws as an actor and a human.

What unfolds feels most like a two-person, one-room play, but it also reeks of a spirited encomium to the film as Mel retells the full plot with childlike awe. Mr. Anonymous interrupts very occasionally and drinks increasingly indulgently. His often-combative questions bring them to the very scar of argument, but his other inquiries betray an audience enrapt by the tale being told.

The whole section feels like the 1981 film My Dinner with Andre, if the table topic were not existence and esthetics but a very dated cowboy film and if one of the conversants were surreptitiously trying to re-ignite a manifestly dead romance.

In any case, the love of the film and of Wayne shines through and, one must admit, it infects. One wonders, as Part I ends, what film will be next or what ultimate lesson will be gleaned.

Part II, Sons, shifts gears with a lurch. It shares the setting of that part of Toronto, but now we are not in a two-character play: instead, we enter the mind of No-name as he wanders the streets two days later. In a hungover fog, he senses something catastrophic has happened in this downtown and drifts, at first trying to deduce the nature of the calamity. Is it a plane crash? Is it an earthquake? Is it a terrorist attack? That becomes entirely secondary as he convinces himself of something far more urgent: Melanie’s safety.

And so Mr. Nobody goes on his own search for the girl. The jingling spurs on his boots are almost audible as he finds new energy in his new quest. He is Searcher. He is Hero. He is Man. He is John Wayne. Get out of his way: he’s got a girl to find.

This section feels like Emily St. John Mandel’s magnificent Station Eleven crossed with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas crossed with The Princess Bride. The writing here is so extraordinarily different from Part I that one can feel almost betrayed. The charm of Part I is utterly gone and replaced by a groggy stream-of-consciousness that can be plodding and unwelcoming.

But it picks up and more-or-less does come all together in the end, even as one rather craves a Part III to tidy up a few things and perhaps take a crack at yet another writing mode.

Regardless, Tucker is unquestionably a deft, daring writer, one to watch and one to attend. He is thinking in unusual ways and has embarked on some fascinating, arresting alchemy.

Just know that this is not the smooth, leisurely ride it seems to promise up front. It is, rather, a wobbling trek.

Laurence Broadhurst teaches English and Religion at St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg. He, too, has rather discomfiting mixed feelings about The Duke.

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