Stripmalling

Stripmalling

By Kate Forrest

A review of Stripmalling by Jon Paul Fiorentino

Published on May 1, 2009

Stripmalling
Jon Paul Fiorentino

ECW Press
$24.95
paper
188pp
978-1-55022-859-5

In Fiorentino’s latest work, a writer named Jonny – who coincidentally strongly resembles the author in name, profession, and resumé – writes about the process of writing a novel called Stripmalling, in which he recounts his journey from strip mall employee to writer. As if this weren’t postmodern enough, the story is also partially reframed as a graphic novel and interspersed with reports on the mid-life crisis that has beset Jonny at the tender age of 31.

While at times annoyingly self-referential, Stripmalling is worth reading for its wry, sardonic humour and delightfully self-deprecating tone: “I mount the stage and quickly launch into my comedy bit, a touching story about a young asthmatic boy making love to a vacuum cleaner [a reference to Fiorentino’s book Asthmatica]. My Canadian-specific references are lost on them.” The graphic novel portion of the book may be the most earnest, relating how stores in the strip mall of Jonny’s suburban hometown are pushed out of business by Hypermart, a big-box store that requires its employees to recite a pledge to the company and to wish customers “a hyper day.” Yet even here Jonny portrays himself as a drug-dealing loser and lets the cartoon version of Dora, his ex-wife, voice his criticisms of the pernicious effect of mega-stores on small towns.

Fiorentino has incorporated a startling number of writing forms into a slender volume: a script for the graphic novel, an interview, lists, diagrams, and a handful of additional panels by illustrator Evan Munday, whose alter ego, Evan, is featured in the story as Jonny’s collaborator and lover. A graphic novel seems a fitting choice of medium for a 31-year-old wishing to “write myself younger.” However, the “bonus materials” that constitute the last quarter of the book, though funny, feel superfluous to the story – an experiment in genre-mixing that causes the book to fade to a close. Thoroughly enjoyable as a comic novel, Stripmalling may leave readers searching for a deeper message. mRb

Kate Forrest is a Montreal translator, editor, and piano teacher.

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