Glover’s stories engrossing, polished

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January 23, 2014

Savage Love

By Douglas Glover

Goose Lane

264 pages, $29.95

Reviewed by Susan Sanford Blades

Turn to any page of Douglas Glover’s Savage Love and you’ll find yourself engrossed in a world without convention, where an emaciated woman in otter-skin coat and hunting boots becomes a universal sex symbol or a man falls in love with a legless mute and proceeds to kill anyone who comes “like lambs through the front door.”

This is Glover’s tenth book of fiction, his sixth book of short stories. He won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 2003 for his novel, Elle, but as of yet has been overlooked by awards juries for his latest effort.  That’s a shock, as this is a tight, accomplished book of stories, published in the year of the story by a man who, literally, wrote the book on writing fiction (Attack of the Copula Spiders, Biblioasis, 2012).

Savage Love begins with a two-page Prelude, “Dancers at the Dawn,” in which stated language is “much better for describing things that don’t exist than for pinning down reality.” Glover dances with this writer’s paradox throughout the book. He pins down what is real—realer than real—in language that is graceful, muscular, challenging (no one has me reaching for the dictionary like Douglas Glover), all the while decrying it for its ineptitude. In the tongue-in-cheek “The Lost Language of Ng,” for instance, “the more achieved Ng intellectuals . . . eschewed speaking altogether and communicated by ‘signs and thoughts.’ ”

The remainder of the book is separated into Fugues, Intermezzo Microstories, and The Comedies. Each piece is a theme-heavy meditation told in eloquent language, with characters described in details that are contradictory, astonishing, and beautiful (much like humans themselves), with quick, original plot lines—sometimes so fast-moving as to make the story itself seem implausible thus allowing his reader to hone in on its elements, which, I believe, is Glover’s intent.

Throughout the book, Glover rips open the skin, digs deep, and exposes the beating heart of life (“I am already nostalgic for the yeasty richness of life, its sudden turns and dramas, its deep sadness, its mysterious and gorgeous purposelessness”), the “inhuman endlessness of desire,” and, of course, love (“whatever happened between us, it would end badly, that all love ended badly, that we would one day part out of boredom or disgust, or that we would grow old and not be the people we were this minute”).

His characters are never dull (even the cardigan-sweater-wearing librarians among them); his endings often sheer quirky brilliance (“except for the catering assistant found with a pitchfork in her throat behind the barn after the reception, everyone lives happily ever after. For a while.”)

At times I found myself wanting for the mundane, for a peek at the mechanics of humanity via an exposed slip, Munro-style, rather than a Glover-style gawk at the meaning of life via the gruesome edge of death. But an author cannot satisfy all of his reader’s desires and Savage Love is a celebration of what Douglas Glover—and the short story—can achieve.

Susan Sanford Blades is a Victoria writer.

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