The Black-Blooded Lady

L (And Things Come Apart)

By David Homel

A review of L (and Things Come Apart) by Ian Orti

Published on July 1, 2010

L (and Things Come Apart)
Ian Orti

Invisible Publishing
$16.95
paper
138pp
9781926743059

The label “experimental fiction” is a loose and overused one; isn’t all fiction an experiment, just the way all writers are “emerging”? But the label is a convenient way of referring to books like Ian Orti’s short work of fiction titled L (and things come apart), for such works are designed to frustrate and twist literary conventions. L is the name of the woman who mysteriously appears and occupies the room over a café run by a man named Henry in an unnamed city (which may be Montreal, Ottawa, or Moncton, for a few words of French are exchanged from time to time). Henry’s wife (also unnamed) commits serial adultery with a number of her colleagues, and one of his entertainments is to creep up to the window of his house to watch the proceedings. Poor Henry can’t seem to do anything right in his own house – he belongs to that long line of hapless males – including pour wine into a glass.

But in his café, Henry is king. He is the shepherd of a cohort of equally lost men, including two fellows named Laplante and Lachaise, who could have escaped from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and various vagrants. Outside the café, transit strikes and blizzards rage, and everyone has plenty to complain about. Nietzsche said it best: “There is a small dose of revenge in every complaint.” Immobile and impotent, the men in Henry’s café participate in the outside world by complaining about it.

L’s arrival creates a small stir in Henry’s blood, though he is extremely slow out of the blocks. “I’m not asking you to sleep with me,” L assures him, and only then does she succeed in getting him to follow her upstairs. There, he fusses with his remaining plumes of hair until L suggests she might cut it all off so he’ll have nothing to fidget with. “You’re a bald man,” she tells him. “You should wear it proudly.”

Of course, a woman who turns up out of nowhere has to have a secret, a backstory, and L is no exception. For an experimental work, Orti makes some pretty conventional choices when it comes to villains. A threatening-looking, faceless man begins skulking around the
building under cover of darkness, and we understand that he represents L’s past. Perhaps this man is her father; perhaps he is a wronged party of some kind. In any case, he is Fate, and there is no escaping him. Henry, just as passive with L as he is with his wife, waits for the threat to show its face.

Which happens soon enough. The man attacks, and we learn that L’s blood is black. Perhaps because she is a text, since a collection of burnt papers seems to be at the origin of the man’s vengeance. If there is any central character in this book, it is the act of writing itself. Henry dies in the attack, but does not die. What is striking, though, is that when Henry’s wife hears of her husband’s death (he does return in the following chapters), we learn that he was the one who deserted her, emotionally, many years ago. The surprise is a good one: Henry moves suddenly from victim to victimizer.

The world Orti has created is absurd and claustrophobic, a place of immobility, and it conjures up images of Eastern Europe with its defeated men who come together in the few spaces left for them. This is a singular vision in our world of vast space and opportunity. mRb

David Homel is a Montreal novelist whose lastest work is Midway.

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