Friday, January 2, 2015

Uproar by Jack Macleod

Have you ever started reading a book, and it starts out with a lot of "setting the scene" sort of stuff - introducing characters, situating the story, etc. - and then you get about a third of the way through and realize that it's no longer setup, it's just the story? Anyway that was kind of the situation here. Not much really happens - most of the story is just 'this is what this one guy's life is like, and here's some stuff that happened'.

The stuff that does happen is at least interesting, although that's about all I can say for it. The novel follows J.T., an economics professor whose wife has just left him, and who is spending his time drinking and 'guarding the hearth' in the vain hope that she might come back. His colleagues and friends worry about him to the extent that they make snarky comments about his alcoholism and, on one occasion, come over to his house and yell at him about what a failure he is making of his life. His good friend Zinger comes to Toronto to do some kind of fellowship at the (fictional) university where J.T. works, and zany madcap adventures ensue, except they don't. I was hoping for some Robbinsesque hijinks with a character named Zinger, but he falls rather flat.

Woven through this plot (and I use the term generously) is a great smattering of jerking off information about Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis and their insights on media. It's like a condescending lecture disguised as an even more condescending novel. In truly remarkably unsubtle fashion, J.T.'s ex-wife and his lover face off about McLuhan in a television interview near the climax. It's like middle-aged male professor fan fiction - I wouldn't be surprised if the author wrote the entire book just to be able to put that scene in print.

The women in this book are terribly written, and exist solely to either persecute poor J.T., or to inexplicably love him with the patience of Job - that would be the love interest, Pepper, who fulfills that last role. The middle of the book is taken up with a search committee on which J.T. and Pepper both sit, trying to find a president for the college. They are hesitant about nominating a perfect candidate because he is gay (this was published in 2009! What is happening??) and of course J.T. is the good guy who earns the gay professors adoring gratitude for being less openly homophobic than the university president. The committee also includes a straw feminist who reports J.T. to the ethics committee, rightfully so (but we're not supposed to think so, I gather) for being racist and sexist. Which he is.

This whole book is like ridiculous wish fulfillment fantasy for a particular subset of humanity - the kind that still use the phrase "light in the loafers" and think their critique of television is cutting edge. Listen, my dad is a middle-aged white male professor, I know what I'm talking about - you don't have to be like this, J.T.

All told I think it was a sad stab at being the next Mordecai Richler - unfortunately for the author, that particular kind of Toronto novel has jumped the shark (in this reviewer's opinion). Even the name-checking of Toronto landmarks, which I usually find delightful, grew a bit tiring and pretentious. Would not read again.

One CN Tower out of five.

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