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A Review of: Blackbodying
by Gordon Phinn

Almost every writer, upon realising that the much sought after palace of adulthood, with its glittering prizes of personal volition and velocity, is actually the first act in a highly theatrical slog to decrepitude and death, firmly turns their back on the flow of time and attempts to reconquer the lost kingdom of childhood, where they were young and easy under the apple boughs.
Most often, this leads to the inevitable spying on progeny from the prim heights of parenthood and plying the aged with oily interest and praise, followed by murmurs of assent and a slinking away to take notes. But the lucky ones can lay claim to the divine gift of memory and emboss their promise with such translucent prose that the reader is transported to the once-considered lost with such vibrant reanimation it would seem that, as the mystics say, all time is now.
Both Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory and Michael Ondaatje's Running In The Family come to mind as examples. But sadly, most attempts to recapture the personal past fall short of their shining mark. Likewise, Blackbodying is undermined by a lack of maturity and original vision. Mr. Nasrallah fictionalises the gypsy exiles of his childhood, mixing memory and desire to frame a series of alternative narratives, nuanced with the usual convoluted pomo attitudes and sliding helplessly into the morass of relentless anxiety.
One might say, should one have the means and motive, that he tries too hard. One might further assert that his book would make one of a pair of interesting bookends on the spectrum of CanLit endeavour.
Blackbodying is a fictive memoir disguised as a novel--the one with all the intricate psychological analysis, microscopic examination of motive, gloomy existentialism and tortured heroes desperately trying to make sense of it all. One needn't be an attack poodle of the reactionary right to find lines such as, "He wonders if his history has shaped his work, or if his work has shaped his history," and "In training my mind to remember a certain way, I thought my fiction, or rather my aesthetics, had changed me," self-absorbed, pretentious and smirk-provoking.
With chapters such "The Present Together, a Specious Presence", "Death of the Author" and "The Device And Matter of Narration", one senses the unmistakable theoretical creak of the creative writing class, and indeed Mr. Nasrallah has an MA from Concordia in English Literature and Creative Writing'. If one is to judge by the number of derivative novels, short story and poetry collections issued in this country year after year (work not only crafted but calloused with care and characterised by timid appropriations of theme and tone, and a distinct inability to fire up the reader with what one might term the passion of connection), the effects of such instruction can only be deleterious to the vitality of a growing national literature. Creative writing can be taught, but can it be learned? As someone once said, "The next Alice Munro will never write like Alice Munro."
Although one can sympathize with Mr. Nasrallah's childhood flight, complete with family from war-torn Beirut, to a sunny, amiable Athens, and a later divorce-charged disruption, landing mother and son in the snowy Toronto suburbs, one cannot condone the tenth generation ruminations on the meaning of narrative and the reliability of memory. Neither can one wholly believe the narrator's device of an inexplicable brain malfunction to bridge the unreality of the various dreamscapes and flights of fancy-the various strands of his alternative realities. Overheated fantasy lives often provide sustained relief from traumatised pasts but for catharsis to be anything other than dryly conceptual, their depiction should at least rival the buried drama in intensity. Need I say that the conventions of post-modernism have become trite with overuse? The thought itself is a clich. One longs for at least a brief whistle of indifference. It does not happen, and one turns to trill oneself. For every Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and A History of The World In Ten and a Half Chapters there are shelves of pallid impostors. What a high price we pay for the promotion of genius.
"What happens to the writer when the writing is done," wonders Mr. Nasrallah in the midst of his textual appurtenances. I would suggest he write another and another, until the energy for all self flagellation and analysis is emptied from its vessel and he can no longer tell the dancer from the dance.

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