November 24, 2017

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Trofimuk's lying trio truthfully terrific

Edmontonian Thomas Trofimuk’s delightfully inventive and provocative new book toys with the traditional novel format while showing what a major role lying can play in everyday life.

The main storyline deals with a lover’s triangle, beautifully fleshing out the formula offered in the opening line of John Updike’s short story Problems: “During the night, A, though sleeping with B, dreams of C.”

Trofimuk’s novel features three fully realized characters: Ray, a married lawyer who has left the legal profession to indulge his love of trees and become an arborist; Tulah, Ray’s wife, a teacher who has a fascination with snow; and Nancy, a hot-blooded Russian woman.

Ray and Tulah’s marriage has reached a stage where it lacks passion; indeed, their lives consist mainly of working and looking after their two young daughters. While Ray seems content without intimacy at home, he craves it with someone new, and Nancy welcomes the chance to satisfy him. At the same time, both Tulah and Nancy take part in dalliances with other men, meaning all three must rely on lies to function.

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Edmontonian Thomas Trofimuk’s delightfully inventive and provocative new book toys with the traditional novel format while showing what a major role lying can play in everyday life.

The main storyline deals with a lover’s triangle, beautifully fleshing out the formula offered in the opening line of John Updike’s short story Problems: "During the night, A, though sleeping with B, dreams of C."

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Trofimuk’s novel features three fully realized characters: Ray, a married lawyer who has left the legal profession to indulge his love of trees and become an arborist; Tulah, Ray’s wife, a teacher who has a fascination with snow; and Nancy, a hot-blooded Russian woman.

Ray and Tulah’s marriage has reached a stage where it lacks passion; indeed, their lives consist mainly of working and looking after their two young daughters. While Ray seems content without intimacy at home, he craves it with someone new, and Nancy welcomes the chance to satisfy him. At the same time, both Tulah and Nancy take part in dalliances with other men, meaning all three must rely on lies to function.

Early in the novel, Ray leaves Nancy’s apartment, believing their affair may be over. She looks down from her 39th-floor balcony at Ray getting into his car, and she talks to him by phone, threatening to jump. He could drive away. "He places his hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel and squeezes. But callous is not who he is. Self-centred, shallow, unfaithful and lying, but not callous." He stays at his car, talking her through many moods, but the novel’s playful narrator keeps switching to flashbacks and digressions, leaving Ray and Nancy on the phone for nearly five hours and most of the book.

At school, Tulah finds herself being challenged by a student’s mother for not teaching the biblical creation story in science class. Tulah’s stand, in the context of this novel, suggests that all religions are based on lies.

While this may reflect a sombre tone, Trofimuk offers much to laugh and smile about. In one scene, Ray follows Tulah into a department store’s lingerie section and notices a bin of umbrellas next to a table of panties. In the spirit of this odd juxtaposition, Ray and Tulah each takes an umbrella and they start a sword fight.

From the start, Trofimuk steps out from backstage like a post-modernist from the 1980s. He points out that he has reversed the sequence of Prologue, chapters, Epilogue, "A Note on the Font" and Acknowledgments. He has numbered the pages backwards, which makes sense to any avid reader who likes to know how many pages are left.

His "Note on the Font" explains that the text is set in the Garamond typeface, created by Claude Garamond in the 16th century. The story of Garamond becomes a funny historical subplot with a final twist that is — of course — precipitated by a lie.

And there are other humorous threads, like the tendency of the Vikings to be personally filthy.

Trofimuk, author of such other works as The 52nd Poem and Waiting for Columbus, times his diversions perfectly while still giving a completely absorbing story. Nancy, Tulah and Ray are all flawed, throbbingly real characters whom the reader would love to know and have over for dinner.

Ironically, This Is All a Lie comes off as marvellously authentic.

Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg author whose latest novel is called Visiting Fellow. He is currently teaching creative writing in McNally Robinson’s Community Classroom.

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