Sunday, April 18, 2004

Russell Smith, Muriella Pent.

A poet from the Caribbean comes to Canada on a six-month residency. He stays at the home of a recently widowed woman (Muriella, herself) who aspires to be a writer herself. Complications with the sponsoring Arts Board, comments from the poet that are astute but not politically astute, other artists, interactions with the two students drawn into Muriella's orbit--Brian and Julia--combine to tell a comedy of manners that is about writing, art, and love.

That's a short blurb that might well fit on a book jacket, and as such it does Smith's novel a great disservice. For while this book, like his earlier ones, has its flaws, it's a beautifully and carefully crafted story that reveals a much more observant storyteller whose craft has been carefully honed.

While the obsessive fascination with sex and physical appearance has not left, it serves to advance the story as well as character development in this novel. The miscellany of forms--narration, epistolary excerpts, news/magazine clippings--offers differing perspectives without feeling cobbled together. Most importantly, the story, built around four intriguing people, is captivating and thoroughly enjoyable.

Smith is reading from it next month (tickets available at Bryan Prince, among other places); that event is something to look forward to.

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