Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Experimental novel a book and book-making project

  • Print

THIS Canadian experimental novel is the curious love story of Tim and Viv and Clive and Viv and the enduring friendship of Tim and Clive.

Toronto author Stephen Marche tells it in fragments and asides and lyrical bursts. It reveals, for instance, both sides of a dinner conversation, the spoken and the unspoken, between (journalist) Clive and (novelist) Viv just before they embark on an affair: "Lying on the bed full of Tim / Clive steak guilt flight adultery / money rain."

It describes (ornithologist) Tim’s life in a mental institution after a sudden breakdown and Viv and Clive’s separate grieving of his loss.

But that’s only the story. The design of the book, its typography, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

The text is sometimes laid out sideways on the page. It occasionally undulates. It periodically runs in a circle. In one instance, it is interspersed with drawings of constellations.

All of which suggests a book of poetry, right down to the publisher’s choice of creamy, subtly textured paper of the kind often used by poetry presses.

But Marche writes novels. This is his third. So it must be approached as a novel as well as a book that is lovely to look at and hold.

Now its publisher, Nova Scotiabased Gaspereau Press, is already known for producing beautiful books, but Love and the Mess We’re In was a particular labour of love for Marche and his collaborator Andrew Steeves, Gaspereau’s publisher and an award-winning typographer.

Marche reputedly wrote the book in a year and then turned it over to Steeves, who spent two years laying it out in consultation with Marche.

This is not a typical production schedule. But neither Steeves nor Marche are known for being strictly conventional.

Take Marche’s first book, 2005’s Raymond and Hannah (Random House), an erotically charged story of a troubled relationship divided by faith and geography where the point of view shifts from paragraph to paragraph. Its marginal notes are often the only clue to who is speaking.

Steeves earned notoriety when Gaspereau was unable — or unwilling — to print enough books to meet the demand for Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists after it won the 2010 Giller Prize.

But no matter how many conventions Love and Mess We’re In subverts, the real test is whether or not it works as art. Is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? Do the design and typography add to the power of the story or are they just elaborate window-dressing?

Well, mostly, yes.

Though the novel runs 272 pages, it lacks the nuance and the exhaustive examination of two people and their relationship that Marche specializes in. (Likely the word count would put it more in the novella range, which is a smaller canvas than March usually employs.) And while Tim, Viv and Clive are all compelling characters with an original tragedy to share between them, the fact that Clive and Viv are writers means that both our leads are excruciating articulate.

Also, Tim’s mental illness often seems like more of a plot device than real, lived experience.

But make no mistake. Love and the Mess We’re In is not a failure (or, if it is, it’s as grand failure as you’ll ever read).

It is a book and a book-making project that should appeal to visual artists, anyone interested in the book-as-fetish-object, readers of experimental fiction and poetry, and fans of both Steeves (and the rest of the crew at Gaspereau) and Marche.

 

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer and poet.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Inside peek at Real Pirates, new Manitoba Museum exhibit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two baby tigers were unveiled at the Assiniboine Park Zoo this morning, October 3rd, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 070619 LIGHTNING ILLUMINATES AN ABANDONED GRAIN ELEVATOR IN THE VILLAGE OF SANFORD ABOUT 10PM TUESDAY NIGHT AS A LINE OF THUNDERSTORMS PASSED NEAR WINNIPEG JUST TO THE NORTH OF THIS  SITE.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you support Pimicikamak First Nation's protest against Manitoba Hydro?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google