Non-Fiction

Truth is Naked, All Others Pay Cash: An Autobiographical Exaggeration

Truth Is Naked, All Others Pay Cash: An Autobiographical Exaggeration
Byron Rempel

Great Plains Publications
$19.95
paper
176pp
1-894283-61-9

Byron Rempel could write for stand-up comedy. He’s funny, entertaining, slightly offensive, and best of all, a little weird. His second book is marketed as “a post-modern memoir”—an unusual career move for a relatively unrecognized author. “Being unknown in some ways makes me the perfect candidate to write a memoir,” he writes in justification. “Most famous memoirists are simply writing defences of their private selves against their more notorious public selves. I am unencumbered by this problem.”

Rempel’s first book, the novel True Detective, did little to contribute to his fame and fortune, selling only 64 copies. Yet he proves that all experience, even lousy reviews, is material to writers by quoting his critics in the introduction of Truth is Naked, setting the tone with a mixture of self-deprecation and sarcasm. (Memo to self: Rempel will have the last laugh.)

Clever wordplay scurries along like a running gag, sometimes even sprinting at breakneck speed, dizzying the reader with volume and frequency. Whoever thought that being raised in a religion that forbids drinking and dancing would be such a gas? A large part of Rempel’s book traces the history of the Mennonites, whose roots date back to the sixteenth century when a group of protestors decided “that the Holy Roman Church club did not have the final word.” With side-splitting humour, Rempel pokes elbows into the Mennonites’ holy ribs, and does so with the gusto of a kid left unattended with a brand new set of crayons. Suddenly his church’s walls are a canvas, a panoply of paradoxes playfully portrayed in red—the colour of blood.

Rempel offers snippets of serious analysis throughout. He explores, for example, why religious groups who supposedly promote pacifism mysteriously turn to violence. Mostly, though, he stays closer to the surface, albeit with hilarious results, pondering perplexities like hairstyles. Rempel notes, for instance, that while the Mennonites portrayed Jesus as “some kind of longhaired Jesus freak…if anybody showed up looking like that on Sunday morning they would have been crucified.”

While Rempel’s witticisms are often brilliant, he frequently veers off into sheer silliness. His propensity to pack a punch into every single line can sometimes feel excessive. At times I felt like I was reading a letter from one of those people who ends every sentence with an exclamation point–or three, if they’re really, really, really excited. A few chapters in, the jokes start to lose effect.

Although Rempel flirts with depth, addressing his own complexes among other things, he usually withdraws just before catharsis. (The term “escape artist” keeps coming to mind.) To his credit, he’s well aware of his commitment issues, and is the first to laugh at his tendency to skip town just as relationships heat up. Still, I somehow wanted more. I wanted to sneak a peek behind the class clown’s mask—I wanted Rempel to take it all off.

Interestingly, the author best achieves this in his penultimate chapter. With surprising transparency, he relates the painful story of his father’s losing battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a degenerative disease. Humour still abounds in this section, but is juxtaposed with poignancy, making the writing feel fuller—and infinitely more satisfying.

Throughout the book, Rempel laughs at his younger self’s romantic dream of becoming a “Great Writer,” suggesting current disillusionment. He recounts his extensive travels in search of inspiration (and a writerly wardrobe), and his tendency to do everything under the sun except write. By the end of the book, however, one senses that he may be getting tired of escaping—or playing hide and seek—and that he’s finally on his way back home. All jokes aside, you sense that if he stays put for a while, he might just unveil his best writing yet—the truly naked truth. mRb

Kimberly Bourgeois is a Montreal writer and singer-songwriter whose latest EP, Heart Wave, was launched under her music project: kimberlyandthedreamtime.com.

Leave a Reply