Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Going Home Again"

Dennis Bock has been hailed by The Globe and Mail as “Canada’s next great novelist.” His books have been shortlisted for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Regional Best Book). His collection of stories won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, the Canadian Authors’ Association Jubilee Award, and the Betty Trask Award in the UK. The Ash Garden won the 2002 Canada-Japan Literary Award and has been published in translation in Spain, Argentina, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, France, and Greece.

Bock applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Going Home Again, and reported the following:
Charlie Bellerose is on a sort of walking PR meet-and-greet campaign as he hands out business cards to downtown Toronto shop owners. After eighteen years away he’s back in his hometown to start up a new language school (he’s got four back in Europe). By this point in the novel he’s bumped into Holly, an old girlfriend from his university days. As a man at the end of a marriage, he’s stirred by those powerful emotions that come to you when you’re open and vulnerable and someone you used to love steps out of the past and looks you in the eye and everything you used to feel for her suddenly jumps back into your heart like it had never left. He can’t shake the feeling that there’s still something between them. But he feels like a shit, too. Part of him knows that he’s grasping for straws here, he’s just wounded and looking for something to take hold of.

I wrote page 69 shortly after I got back from India. The trip was still ringing in my ears when I sat down to write that morning. In New Delhi I’d spent a day speaking Spanish with a guide—not because his English was lacking or my Spanish is so great, but we’d both lived in Spain at more or less the same time back in the late eighties and had some stories to swap. We wandered through and beneath the pavilions and canopied alcoves of the Red Fort, the Lal Qil'ah—a Canadian traveller and a Sikh named Paul who spoke nine languages like he owned them—and jawed on about tapas bars in Granada and old girlfriends in Madrid and Barcelona. One of those beautiful human moments that happen on international turf but somehow make you feel close to home.
One windy afternoon a heavyset Sikh sporting a magnificent grey beard examined my card with unusual interest after we shook hands. His name was Paul, and he owned and operated the electronics shop two blocks north of me, presiding over a thousand square feet of oversize flat screens that played endless loops of high-definition golf greens, hang-gliding adventures and the dancing turbulence of the Great Barrier Reef. “Oh, you are most welcome to the neighborhood sir,” he said with a smile, slipping the card into his breast pocket. “My brother is also involved in the language business. He is a translator in New Delhi. The greatest of cities. He is accredited in nine languages. Perhaps you will be interested in joining the Downtown Business Council?”

After Paul loaded me up with the relevant documents, I dipped into the Starbucks three floors below the academy and saw the woman who at this time of day often sat reading at the table beneath the big Picasso print on the exposed brick of the west wall. She was an attractive thirty-something, I guessed, and sometimes she looked up from her book and smiled when she saw me. I thought maybe she’d help push the thoughts of Holly out of my head. She was there almost every afternoon, sitting alone, a silver bracelet flashing against her tan skin as she sipped her chai latte. I was feeling connected, possibly even gregarious, my new association with Paul at the electronics shop having buoyed me with a high sense of community spirit.
Learn more about the book and author at Dennis Bock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue