Mock Opera

Love in the Age of Confusion

By Padma Viswanathan

A review of Love In The Age Of Confusion by Byron Ayanoglu

Published on April 1, 2002

Love In The Age Of Confusion
Byron Ayanoglu

DC Books
$18.95
paper
252pp
0-919688-88-8

Of the first 75 pages of Love in the Age of Confusion, playwright and Gazette food critic Byron Anayoglu’s first novel, this reviewer was engaged by two. This is not a great ratio. It’s even more unfortunate given that neither passage was specifically about any of the characters alive in the pages of the book. One was a thumbnail sketch of the evolution of the MacLeods, an unfathomably rich Westmount family spawned by a Scottish thug. Ari, one of the two young lovers at the forefront of Ayanoglu’s mock opera, is the whole of the most recent MacLeod generation, though the book opens with the revelation that he has planted the seed of the next in his fractious Québécoise inamorata, Arletty. The other standout segment is a brief history of Arletty’s forebears. There are flashes of humour and liveliness later in the book, but these come as all too welcome – and too brief – relief from melodrama.

Ari is a wannabe filmmaker. He meets the waifish Arletty at a Bernard Street café and casts her in his arty flick. Her two-minute improvised monologue in the character of a suicidal junkie mesmerizes the cast and crew (as well as, eventually every critic at Cannes, and Gérard Depardieu). After she delivers, Ari and she have mad, incredible, perfect sex for the first of several times. In between these times, she disappears and plays head games with him. When she is not doing this, she is mouthing off at her intellectual separatist father, Louis-Marc. Ari, meanwhile, retreats to pout in his mansion on the hill under the scornful eye of his cold pater and the indulgent one of his curvaceous Greek mother. Much of this predictability is especially difficult to swallow given that, at several points, both the book’s narrator and Ari himself declare that Ari is the enemy of the cliché. Perhaps this is intended to reflect that perverse human attraction to things we hate; perhaps this book is intended to be read strictly in a spirit of all-consuming millennial irony. One suspects not. One suspects rather that this book has not been too carefully crafted.

This sad suspicion is bolstered by several kinds of sloppiness. For example, Ari’s friend Ben rediscovers the AWOL Arletty via “…such a contrived coincidence…that it could only have happened in real life, because in fiction it would have dismissed as a facile plot device.” The coincidence turns out to be far less incredible than Ari’s mother Maria fainting into the arms of Arletty’s mother Josette on the island of Mykonos, an event on which must of the plot turns.

Ayanoglu and his editors also make very liberal and unconventional use of hyphens and commas. The hyphens made compound words out of phrases like “famously-frivolous” and “oral-sex.” Plenty of writers are reinventing English and using creative punctuation to do it: the fact that Ayanoglu is described in his bio as a “food-critic” put paid to that interpretation. Oddly placed and unnecessary commas obfuscate otherwise straightforward sentences. The careless editing extends to other realms. Ari delivers a lip-synched rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I’ll Survive” (try singing that) and is elsewhere inspired by the poetry of “T.S.Elliott.”

All of this does not reduce the impact of those bits with verve and nuance: a well-turned hockey sequence; a witty little sendup of the CBC. (Ben, who is the composer for Ari’s film, is featured in a CBC series called Impoverished Geniuses. “Invitations to this particular program tended to condemn its participants to lifelong failure and irrelevance, but it was Ben’s very first public exposure and he was thrilled.”) Unfortunately, these are but scraps to the starving. mRb

Padma Viswanathan is currently completing her first novel, Thangam. She was a finalist for the 2001 Bronwen Wallace Award for fiction.

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