A finely-tuned apathy machine

A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine

By Jeffrey Mackie

A review of A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine by Mark Paterson

Published on November 1, 2007

A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine
Mark Paterson

Exile Editions
$19.95
paper
158pp
978-1-55096-087-3

The book’s title may be worrisome at first glance: is this going to be a collection of “slacker” stories? The answer is no; in addition, Mark Paterson is a great storyteller. His stories are set in a reality many readers can relate to: growing up suburban in Canada, in this case Montreal. The time is the 1980s and ’90s and most of the stories are coming-of-age tales of young men experiencing life, love, and friendships. Suburbia and suburban life are given honest treatment, not approached ironically or disdainfully. Paterson uses pop culture and place references to flesh out the setting of the stories without shouting that “this is Montreal in the 1990s.”

Two stories stand out. “The IGA Kissing Bandit” is worth the price of admission on its own. Men friends dress up one of their group as a woman to try and trap one of the workers at the local IGA, a clerk known to kiss female customers after helping them with their groceries. The young men are forced to deal with issues of sexual identity and homophobia. “Lost Dog” tells of a young man who comes to see his “cool” friends as they really are and ultimately sides with an outsider.

Many of these stories are quirky, some are harder-edged, and all of them work except for “Her Plastic Daisy and the Canadian Water to Grow It,” where the political points seem awkward and cliché-ridden. Overall, though, A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine is a very strong collection. mRb

Jeffrey Mackie is a Montreal poet and radio host who can be heard weekly on CKUT's "Friday Morning After".

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