4 out of 5 stars
Other Press, 2009
304 pages, Fiction
The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal by Canadian author Sean Dixon is often a fun, irreverent, quirky, and wonderful stream-of-consciousness novel that lends itself to readers who like to invest themselves deeply into a story full of amusing—and often annoying—characters and their unusual, high-concept exploits. Other times, it holds on and won’t let go—even if you’d like it to.
Dixon’s novel, in the simplest terms—if that is at all possible!—is the story of a group of women (and a few men) who belong to the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Women’s Book Club. Their book club is no ordinary book club in that they choose to re-enact the books they read. Narrated in third person by two former members of the book club, we join the club as they begin, somewhat reluctantly, to read and live out the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known pieces of literature in history. Yet one of their members, Runner Coghill, convinces the club to work from ancient clay tablets rather than a modern translation. This creates interesting challenges for the group as they question the authenticity of Runner’s interpretation of the text and the ultimate purpose of the club’s existence. The club begins to fall apart for various reasons, including the death of a very influential member, but the Epic re-enactment continues with strange results.
Dixon does a nice job of creating and displaying his characters for the reader: all hopelessly flawed but not beyond repair—definitely human, quirky and, yet sadly, not very sympathetic or likeable most of the time. In some ways, it felt that a few of the characters seemed so similar they were difficult to keep straight at times. That could be the reason Dixon introduced his characters at the beginning of the book with their names in boldface type as a way to quickly reference each character later (“…the reader can flip back and refer to them from time to time”).
Often I find myself melancholy as books end because I’ve just begun to find the characters engrossing and engaging (i.e., I develop a love for them?), but I can’t say that about Dixon’s characters or story. That’s not necessarily wrong. Dixon may have desired to leave you feeling that way. If so, he succeeded.
While Dixon paints his characters with various colors, they all seemed to have oddly the same…sameness. Like picking out colors for your master bedroom from Disney paint samples: no matter how many colors there are to choose from, it all comes down to pink, and that’s just wrong, isn’t it? Unfortunately, my favorite character died halfway through the book and left me with sympathizing with the robot (Yes, a robot. Didn’t I mention the robot?).
Overall, the book is an expressive bit of narrative, but there were many times I couldn’t help but say, “Can this book please end now,” only to be confronted with a remaining 200, 100, or 50 pages left to read. At times, Dixon swept me along with his tale but other times it would drag along waiting for the action or even the dialog to get more interesting.
Dixon is an incredibly talented writer whose imagination takes the reader to places few authors can or wish to travel. My mistake was to judge the book too early on and this only serves to hinder the reader of this “damaged masterpiece” to borrow the author’s own words.
Read it, but it may be an acquired taste.
Reviewed by David Stucki (Electric Eclectic)
You may also read this and other book reviews on Mark McGinty’s blog, The Boogle.