The hole show

The Hole Show

By Neil Scotten

A review of The Hole Show by Byt Maya Merrick

Published on November 1, 2007

The Hole Show
Byt Maya Merrick

conundrum press
$17
paper
360pp
978-1-894994-25-5

The Hole Show is Maya Merrick’s second novel and is a toothsome trawl through Montreal vérité. There are freaks, deformities, and what used to be called “clubfoot,” all in a Henry Darger-esque jamboree. It is the world of Sextant, Merrick’s first book, plus a little of the historical sweep of Michel Tremblay complete with silverfish crawling up from the drains. Characters navigate the hazards of this universe under various monikers of convenience and for the reader, at times, this can be a bumpy ride. The storytelling bends and distorts like a bleary bottle bottom until not even a closing conflagration can untwizzle the ends of this complex and ambitious novel.

Merrick’s style treads a very fine line between creating and preventing the novel. The description of high art-turned-skinshow Giselle in chapter four, for instance, is weighed down by lines like “weeping edges of willows drape the wings.” With its Roy Orbison soundtrack it comes off as just outré, a little too much like White Jazz James Ellroy in bed with David Lynch and a bag of razor blades. There are other parts, however, where The Hole Show establishes a genuinely creepy sense of something nasty underfoot. The description of Billy/Beau’s hermaphrodite self (more of this below) in the following chapter really makes the language work for its money and the result is good.

Merrick’s novel is set in the emergent Montreal of the early 1960s and ’70s. Society is unravelling a little and in the interstices we find Hicklin, Bill, Dolly, and all the rest. This world of interlocked lives is related through multiple points of view as if we were looking at the story through one of those Sputnik security cameras. Interesting effects with space and time definitely happen, but if you’ve ever lost patience with The Sound and the Fury, this is not the book for you. Little illusions of perspective happen at other levels too. The “hole” of the title is severally a reference to sexual identity, a place where young Hicklin hides, and the “wholeness” sought by Billy in the transformation to Beau.

That’s another thing about The Hole Show: Merrick’s theme is in part metamorphosis. The novel describes not only literal kinds of changes, as in the case of Billy, but also the changes caused by the ways in which we see the world, hence the games with point of view. Depending on who is looking, Hicklin (a made up name, of course) is “The Stranger” and, if you are the teenage runaway Luce, “The Fox.” The broken-down albino ballerina Dahlia is also “The Ghost” and the icy “Dolly.” We also see the transformations that occur when one character leans too hard on another. In the parts where Hicklin is bullied by Thad and his sidekicks Bikky and Dink, this reviewer was reminded of the climate of dread described by Margaret Atwood’s narrator Elaine in Cat’s Eye. This is a comparison that Merrick might not welcome.

Aside from occasional freakshow, been-there-done-that banalities, The Hole Show really crackles across its 360 pages. The best parts occur sometimes at a bit of a tangent. Patience, Dahlia/Dolly’s tatty doll with the broken mechanical voice, has the same chilling appeal as Ramone, the papier mâché head in Sextant. There is a film loop of rotting chickens playing at a party and a wonderful “pot of homemade (though not by her mother) marmalade” through which Dahlia regards the world. These ideas tend to grapple with an at times less than helpful style and narrative aesthetic, but it is a fight which, in the end, Merrick wins. mRb

Neil Scotten is a Montreal-based writer and photographer.

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