Monday, July 10, 2006

TECH BALK. Absence of the customary bomb graphic indicates that once again I have neglected to renew the NetSol account on my home domain. If you need to reach me fast, here is the temporary address. A Yahoo! addy! That it should come to this. In my 14 years of computer use I have vacillated between enthusiastic early-adoption and something like Luddism; in our current era of fast connections and iPods, the latter has become my default mode. But even the momentary loss of makes me feel like a Republican without a flag pin.

So let us retreat into the cool shade of dead trees. I spent much of the weekend reading my first Robertson Davies novel, The Fifth Business. A lovely book, taking the perspective of a precocious rural Ontarian (special pleasure for me there: my mother's people came from Picton) to alternately slash at and grudgingly approve the first half of the Twentieth Century. In 1908 little Dunny Ramsay, our narrator, dodges a snowball thrown by a jacked-up little shit who grows into a local power; said projectile strikes the Baptist preacher's wife, Mrs. Dempster, in the back of the head, causing her (we are told) to go "simple," give premature birth to a future outcast and magician, and become a fool-saint. This incident informs the destinies of all concerned through to the climax -- an admirable unifying device that supports Dunny's notion (or is it the other way around?) that "the traits that are strong in childhood [never] disappear; they may go underground, or they may be transmuted into something else, but they do not vanish..." (which reminds me of Salinger's Franny and Zooey: "There are no big changes between ten and twenty -- or ten and eighty, for that matter. You still can't love a Jesus as much as you'd like to..."). The young brute becomes a callow world-beater (think Boss Mangan in Shaw's Heartbreak House), the young outcast follows painful byways to occult power and, finally, vengeance, and the narrator becomes an overeducated and self-examining scold, which is to say, the voice of an author of a very fine novel of the upper-middle register -- too obviously special-pleading to completely convince (lacking the utmost Dickensian talent of enlisting a seeming Universe in support of his childhood grievance) but giving a fine account of a certain Anglo-Christian perspective in the late 1960s: reflexively prudish, painfully aware of its limitations, attempting through the generosity of Novel writing to set the world to rights, at least privately. I can't wait to see where Davies went next.

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