||A Review of: Dr. Weep and Other Strange Teeth
by Harold Heft
"If it bends," begins the famously pompous lecture by the
character of Lester (Alan Alda) in Woody Allen's 1989 film Crimes
and Misdemeanors, "it's funny. If it breaks, it's not funny."
Comparing two new books of short stories by Canadian writers Chris
Gudgeon and Gary Barwin suggests a similar judgment about the extent
to which authors can experiment with the nature of reality-if it
bends, it can be poignant; if it breaks, it's probably meaningless.
Gary Barwin's new book, Doctor Weep and Other Strange Teeth, as
suggested in the title, is a collection of short pieces written in
stream of unconsciousness style. A random sampling from the book
(in this case, the opening of a "story" called
"Transgressor"), reads: "I open my briefcase. Three
men in suits pop out and unfold themselves in a jiffy. To each of
my teeth they attach a silver string bound to a tooth-white horse.
Each horse wears a golden bridle and feather plume. The sun is doing
that thing where it disappears at the end of the day, making light
the colour of tanned skin. The tallest man lifts his arm and starts
whistling." The entire book, divided into vignettes (these
divisions must makes sense to Barwin alone), goes on in pretty much
the same vein: lighthearted, catalogued randomness that sometimes
almost achieves a glimmer of poignancy but mostly wallows in
meaninglessness. It breaks.
It does not take an Olympian act of literary interpretation to
understand Barwin's project: he is dismantling reality and phenomena
and reassembling them into something new. He seems to be asking us,
in the process, to question what we think we know as reality and
the arbitrary relationship between things. What Barwin sets out to
accomplish in Doctor Weep and other strange teeth he does accomplish,
but the question remains: Is it worth reading? Well, it might be
worth tripping through one or two of his vignettes, just to get a
sense of his undertaking, but eventually the lack of meaning beyond
the cute experiment in meaning is simply numbing.