You Comma Idiot

You Comma Idiot

By Rob Sherren

A review of You Comma Idiot by Doug Harris

Published on October 5, 2010

You Comma Idiot
Doug Harris

Goose Lane Editions
$29.95
hardcover
330pp
978-0-86492-630-2

You comma Idiot is a gutsy play for a novelist, and it’s all right there in the title: You, because the book is narrated in second person; Idiot because theyou in question is a drug-dealing, backstabbing idiot; and comma, which is a postmodern nod to the fourth-wall flirtation inherent in second-person storytelling.

Addressing the reader as “you” makes the authorial voice very present and immediate. While it’s easy to suspend disbelief
when reading first- or third-person narration, it is much harder with a secondperson narration. In fact, when a novel tells readers how they feel, or what they’ve done, suspension of disbelief is constantly being tested by the readers’ own feelings about what they would or wouldn’t do in
a similar situation. It’s almost as though the narrator “looks into the camera” with each sentence (interestingly, the main character
of this novel has a recurring relationship with a news cameraman).

This form, however, is risky when it comes to picaresque novels. Part of what makes some of the great rogues in contemporary literature – Ignatius J. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces or Mark Renton from Trainspotting – memorable as characters is how relentlessly vile they are. They almost never appeal to the reader’s sympathies; they don’t care what readers think of them and that’s what makes them cult classics. Butin the second person, interaction
between the character and the reader changes. How are “you,” the reader, going to react to “you,” the character, getting “your” best buddy addicted
to smack?

Lee Goodstone, the picaroon of You comma Idiot, is a hash dealer in Montreal’s West End who begins the story by sleeping with his best
friend’s girlfriend. He isn’t really all that bad, he’s just sort of lame. This makes him more sympathetic than an arch rogue, but less memorable because he
never does the right thing, the wrong thing, or much of anything. This paralytic tension is a central theme as Lee’s drug business atrophies and the plot
moves through the plight of his friend Henry who may or may not have kidnapped a nymphomaniac coke-head.

The book isn’t plot driven, it’s much more about the interplay of an intricate gang of twentysomethings held together by connections that reach back to adolescence. This group loves to banter; the dialogues and monologues are reminiscent of a Kevin Smith script, minus the “Star Wars” references. You, Lee, do some contemptible things, but the story is less about the wrong things, and much more about the repartee that comes afterwards, which is where the book is strongest.

That’s ultimately how the novel negotiates the perils and pitfalls of its form as well as the drug dealing, relationship hopping, and kidnapping twists of its plot – it talks its way out, with cool lines and quick smiles, only occasionally catching a fist in the gut. Lee Goodstone may be an idiot, but he’s a witty one, and fun to cruise around Montreal with. He doesn’t want to change the world; he’d rather just go down to Girouard Park, hang out with his friends, and play a bit of hockey.Maybe smoke a fatty.

There’s no harm in that. mRb

Rob Sherren feels blessed to be living in a land where relative peace prevails.

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