Hello Dali

You, Kwazniekvski, You Piss Me Off

By Angie Gallop

A review of You, Kwazniekvski, You Piss Me Off by John Lavery

Published on April 1, 2005

You, Kwazniekvski, You Piss Me Off
John Lavery

ECW Press
$19.95
paper
209pp
1-55022-674-6

Before you open this book there are a few things you should know. Otherwise, John Lavery may just piss you off. Lavery hasn’t created the standard collection of linked short stories. If you’re a reader who likes to sit down and actually “get it” from the moment you begin reading, then this is not the book for you. You’ll get through the first story fine, but may start having doubts by the second, when you realize, for example, that “the he” is not a typo, but a character.

To enjoy this book, then, you should relax your rational mind, step back, and view it less as a series of stories and more as the literary equivalent of a Dali painting or a poetry performance where, if you let yourself take in the images, coherence eventually emerges. What’s more, don’t be upset if you start having difficulty distinguishing characters. Lavery puts you inside the heads of people driven more by impulse and instinct than by reasoning. Much of the narrative consists of impressions, and just as the subconscious often melds one person with another, so too do the boundaries between characters blur at times.

In fact, this book is surreal. What makes it gel is less the story and more the images that bubble up from one piece to another. In this sense, Lavery is again similar to Dali, who embraced painting as a medium to study the psyche through subconscious images. Indeed, Lavery is a master of painting a picture with words, using fresh, sometimes funny and often very visual phrases. Take for example, “Snort,” with its description of a woman who hangs out every day on the bench outside a police station:

He was fascinated by the details of her face: by the current of freckles that began at her hairline, moved slowly down her temples, trickled under her nose and over her lips, flowed with increasing speed along her throat and funnelled into the V of her bulky sweater…

Lavery uses his gift for visual writing to give the reader a sense of what it’s like to be Detective-Inspector Paul-François Bastarache, a cop who has achieved some celebrity from appearances on local TV, and loses his wife to a terminal illness during the course of the book. But these points do not figure prominently in the story. Instead we learn about Bastarache and the people who inhabit his world through their interaction with the world around them and with each other.

When we first meet him, Bastarache is an earnest young cop who quotes his criminology professor and communicates high-minded ideals about his profession. When asked for his impression of a card sent in to the police, possibly by a serial killer, he replies, in his imperfect English, “First of all, someone should tell to this person that the police exists for many reasons besides criminals like him.” But the next time we meet him, in the title story, he is older and his English has improved. He’s successful but also more cynical. It becomes obvious that he’s coming undone when he grows obsessive about a woman named Lydia Kwaznievski, who has found a bag containing almost $40,000. According to Bastarache, she’s an “incompetent vagabond” and it is suspected that she may have killed someone for the money.

Lavery provides just enough plot to pull the reader along through Bastarache’s decline as the lines shift between him and the so-called low-lifes who inhabit his world. Sometimes Lavery calls undue attention to himself with his imagery. His challenge is to use his gift with language to serve the story and to let his readers have a more direct relationship with his characters. This way he’ll piss fewer people off and gain the much wider audience he deserves. mRb

Angie Gallop is the author of "Roughing it in the Market: A Survival Toolkit for the Savvy Writer".
 

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