[lit-ideas] Thursday book review -- long
- From: Paul Stone <pas@xxxxxxxx>
- To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 11:21:03 -0400
Back on Tuesday -- David Gilmour
I've been a big fan of David's since he was a fledgling writer and actually
was first exposed to him when he had a program a decade ago for several
years on Canadian Television called "Gilmour: on the arts". His opinions
were not always my own, but he held to them fiercely with a good
intellectual, if not emotional, argument about why he held them. Funnily
enough, he was also a big coffee drinker. Perhaps that caffeine thing
doesn't work up here in the great white north as well as it does on the
more malleable citizens below the belt.
Ironically, I've read all of Gilmour's books -- I think 8 or 9 now -- but
this: "Back on Tuesday", his debut from 1987, I've read last. My first
encounter with Gilmour was his 1992 book "How Boys See Girls", which is, as
I've said in the past on Phil-Lit, REALLY a good description of how boys
see girls: by 'boys' of course being 'men who are still childish and
brutish' and by 'girls', those magnificent 'young women who have all the
features that the boys so like'. I was hooked. His writing resonated with
me as much as anyone's had, on a visceral level. It's not literature, but
it's not just another book either.
He is a street writer, but from the Canadian streets. He's a sort of a
young, more self-actualized Mailer, but without the false bravado. What
Gilmour brings is a real maleness that surely includes all the boorishness
that we inhabit, but also has tenderness and a firm comfort in his feminine
side as well.
Little sentences jump out as 'yeah' moments. "And looking at my reflection
in the elevator overhead mirror, I wondered how I had ever become so weak
and frightened And how long had it been going on."
At times he writes sentences that clearly evoke a homoerotic subtext, but
you never for one minute think his characters are the least bit gay. Quite
the opposite, since they take great pains to evoke all that which makes us
men. Some would say they protest too much, but I think they protesteth
In "Back on Tuesday" we see another of Gilmour's 'sides of himself' --
almost all his writing is surely at least borne in his autobiography, and
if the character is not a side of David, it is almost surely an amalgam of
someone he knew in his writerly pursuits along the way. This time, it's a
hack writer Eugene H. who works for his soon to be ex-wife J. Together they
have a child "Franny" who they both love dearly. J has 'moved on', while
Gene, not so much.
The first 40 pages or so sets up, very clearly the relationship that they
have. He is clearly suffering from an unrequited love for J. and regrets
almost every decision he's made in the past few years. His 2 day trek --
the stuff of which occupies the rest of the book -- is littered with the
inability for him to stop thinking about J. and regretting so much. Having
their offspring along probably saves him. It's his anchor. It's his
albatross around his neck that makes him remember whence he came, so that
maybe, just maybe, he WILL be back on Tuesday.
One day, he's had enough. J's new beau[described as a looking like a
"Turkish Terrorist"] pisses him off. J pisses him off. Gene decides to cash
in and go to Jamaica -- and take their child with him. He has a friend down
there. He has no plans, but to go. It's a lark. A stupid, adventurous,
meaningless, reckless lark.
Through the next 18 hours or so, he makes a lot of decisions, but almost
all are on the spur of the moment. It's a whirlwhind tour that gets you
thinking. The author KNOWS about drinking, about womanizing, about being
socially inept sometimes, about grudgingly loving somebody, about feeling
responsibility, about mental illness, about interacting with unwanted
And the writing is good. There are revelations that aren't the Dan Brown
type. They are things you might have thought, but not really expressed or
even achieved clarity on them. Here is one example:
One evening I was sitting in a chair beside the bathtub and Franny was
splashing and nattering and singing little tuneless bars. I don't remember
where J. was but at one point I realized that i was late, that I had to go.
And I wanted to stay with Fran, really I did, but I also really wanted to go.
"Franny," I said gently, "I have to go." And she stretched out a little
cream-coloured arm and pulled the plug and I felt such tenderness for her,
such extraordinary love. I leaned over and kissed her, kissed her on the
top of her blond head.
She was absorbed with water whirling down the drain and she didn't seem to
take any notice. But then, without looking at me, she asked, "Why are you
And the question, the eveness with which she asked it rocked me.
"Because I love you."
"No, you're kissing me because you're leaving."
It came like an electric shock. I'd been caught in a false moment and
without so much as directing her eyes at me she'd unmasked me. I had kissed
her because I DID feel guilty; the hand was hers, unmistakably, and I knew
that from then on she'd always be just ahead of me, that I'd inevitably end
up running behind her, carrying last month's assumptions like last year's
This is not groundbreaking, but it's good, revelatory writing. It serves
the purpose. It shows that Eugene purportedly loves his little Franny and
the reader has no doubt he does. But then Gene feels the need to reassure
the reader "And I wanted to stay with Fran, really I did, but I also really
wanted to go." As much as he is reassuring the reader, and more, he is
rationalizing his own selfishness and lack of willing to put up with the
fatherhood responsibility. The last paragraph cops his attitude that he
feels like he's no longer up to it. The "they grow up so fast" sentiment
drips from the pages. He never dotes on his little miracle, but he gives
her her props whenever she deserves them. He treats her like a human and
that, in the least, and in spite of it all, is admirable.
The novel has a brief preface that goes like this:
"No, I didn't kidnap the child. You can't kidnap your own child. Well you
could, I suppose, but I never would. No, that wasn't it. Nor was it as
simple as I pretended at the time: that I simply took her to Jamaica
without telling her mother. Anyway, to my credit I was cold sober when I
did it. At the beginning."
This is Gilmour in a nutshell. Clear, succinct, laying out the
possibilities, but still with giving you a "ooh, I wonder what happens?"
feeling. With just a surface analysis of this preface we can see from the
first sentence that he refers to Franny as "the" child. Clearly he feels
distance and almost burden. Then he moves on to a sense of ownership or at
least stewardship. He is taking a LITTLE responsibility. Then he moves on
to the logic of calling it 'kidnapping'. He's a very pragmatic,
philosophical guy without ever making a real statement. Even here, he is
hedging both sides but still questioning. Then he rationalizes his
behaviour, being the 'boy' that he always is. Lastly, he has to give
himself a LITTLE credit, but then he makes you think "I wonder what happens".
I didn't hate Gene and I didn't love him. I was curious as to how the whole
thing was going to work itself out, but even with a hundred pages left, I
knew that really, it wouldn't. Because in reality, these things NEVER work
themselves out. It's an ugly situation and it will remain such. There is no
real resolution, so if you like clean endings, don't read Gilmour. But if
you like a slice and some really good writing with cool observations that
are not outwardly JUST observations, go for it.
As a final note, I must say that while I liked this novel, it was a bit of
a letdown and confusingly so. When I bought it at Christmas, i had no idea
that it was his first novel. Even when I read it last week, I didn't know.
So, since I had read all of his other books in the order he wrote them, I
was a bit miffed that he hadn't continued to grow with this one. His other
writing -- especially recent stuff -- borders on "really good", but this
was merely enjoyable. The revelation that it was his first was re-assuring
and I know that I can safely go on buying each new release with the
anticipation that I previously had. I suppose if you were starting out to
read Gilmour, this would be a good place to start knowing that it only gets
better and very quickly -- How Boys see Girls is MILES above this one.
Kingsville, ON, Canada
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