This One's Going to Last Forever

This One’s Going to Last Forever

By Elizabeth Johnston

A review of This One's Going To Last Forever by Nairne Holtz

Published on August 1, 2009

This One’s Going To Last Forever
Nairne Holtz

Insomniac Press
$19.95
paper
226pp
978-1-897178-80-5

The discovery of fossil fuels gave people in the West the equivalent power of slaves, according to economist Milton Keynes. But in Nairne Holtz’s fiction collection, This One’s Going to Last Forever, the characters live in a world devoid of the ability to fuel their true desires. As a result, they have become slaves to desires that don’t hold a candle to the original.

In the first story, “When Gay is the New Straight,” a gay man works as an Elvis impersonator in his uncle’s drive-through wedding chapel. “Now I live in Sudbury, a city that resembles the cratered surface of the moon, a wasteland in which vegetation has been decimated by logging and acid rain,” the narrator says. When a lone woman comes in to enquire about elopements, she and the narrator realize that they have much more in common than either imagined. As a result, their lives are shaken up and relationships are broken. “But even up here,” rationalizes the narrator, “some people realize the unexpected can be a gift, a geode in which sliced granite reveals the sheen of a gem.”

Having her narrator make sense of his life by drawing on this stark moonscape demonstrates Holtz’s skill at crafting stories. She writes such fluid prose that it almost normalizes the sometimes deviant practices her mainly lesbian characters substitute for the real thing. In “Crows,” two lesbian lovers are more bonded by drugs than by sex, and in “Phantoms,” soon after Anna loses a leg is a car accident she breaks up with her long-time lover. Learning to walk with a prosthesis, Anna also takes her first tentative steps into the world of amputee fetishism. Invited to a fetish/S&M party over the internet, Anna witnesses a 20-year-old aboriginal woman submitting to a much older, white man’s degrading orders. But Andrew, the transgendered Goth host, dismisses Anna’s concerns, saying that being disturbed by this sight means she is turned on. Anna isn’t sure she agrees, but she ignores that concern in order to feel desired again.

In this collection Holtz deftly shows that life seen through a mainly lesbian prism does not obscure the fact that affairs of the heart are gender-blind and universal. This theme reaches its fullest exploration in the centerpiece novella, “Are You Committed?” It’s a coming of age story set in Montreal, 1989 – the year of the École Polytechnique massacre, where women were singled out and shot because they were women. Set against this traumatic backdrop is Clara, who hails from a small Prairie town. Clara has a crash course (via her job at the McGill Daily student newspaper) in lesbian and bisexual issues, anti-establishment and gender politics, and the fluidity of intimate student relationships. During this time that breaks her open like a geode, she confronts a difficult childhood trauma. Tragically for Clara, as for all the characters in this collection, insight does not shine like a gem glinting from the rubble. What all of Holtz’s characters fail to grasp is that cutting a stone open does not release its glow. Without fossil-fuelled tools or someone else to do the work for them, the only way to transform a raw stone into a gleaming gem is to polish it. Though the characters in This One’s Going to Last Forever lack the inner resources to achieve their heart’s desires, perhaps their ersatz lovers won’t last forever, either. mRb

Elizabeth Johnston is the author of "No Small Potatoes," and teaches writing at Concordia University.

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