In ‘Stella Atlantis’ creator Susan Perly reveals she is aware of her stuff. However you’ll wish to hold your cellphone close by
“Stella Atlantis” is a great book to read on your phone.
Just like “Death Valley,” Susan Perly’s last novel, long list for Giller in 2016, this book is so excited it has nothing more to do with it. His story is as loose as the paragraphs with which it tells it. It’s like she wants us to always know everything she and her characters know about everything.
And if we don’t know who the de Witt brothers were, who Bebo and Cigala are, then the Simply Red version of “If You Don’t Know Me Now” was a cover or the labyrinthine inside joke – “Sorry, we’ve got chickens “- that used to be painted on the window of the By The Way Cafe on Bloor Street on Brunswick Avenue in Toronto. We can click on it.
I didn’t feel that the references are the result of the work she did specifically for this book, but that the immensity of the geographic and cultural details that she drops upon us like a weighted blanket is the result of a long and extremely committed life. She paid attention to things, read books, noticed stairwells, sat in front of pictures. She knows her stuff, isn’t shy when it comes to knowing things, and she hopes we know something too.
The title’s Stella is a 12-year-old girl who died near Christie Pits. The story is about her parents, Vivienne Pinkwood, the heroine of “Death Valley”, and Johnny Coma. She is a photographer with no hair and no eyebrows and he is a writer and illustrator. It’s 12 years since Stella was hit by a bike. Vivienne in Amsterdam, Johnny in Barcelona. Perly gets very specific about both places, so specific that at times it can seem like she’s trying to show us exactly how well she knows the Van Baerlstraat in south Amsterdam or the old Barcelona neighborhood of La Ribera. She may have spent time there. She may have spent time with Street View. In both cases, some passages read a bit like a travel blog written by someone who has been in one place for a month and wants to share how much they already feel there.
I can only imagine what the Perly household is like. She is married to Dennis Lee, one of the few living or dead Canadian poets who could be considered an icon. But when I picture it through Perly’s writing, I think it’s like having three meals a day “My dinner with André” or that little bit in “Manhattan” when everyone is talking about the right way to say Van Gogh except without mocking Woody Allen. She likes her words and her pun, her literary means and her allusions. They are everywhere: alliterations, surnames, phrases from “Hamlet” or the Pentateuch or “Don Quixote”. Some of it is used for traditional meanings, like when she writes after Johnny had sex, “He wasn’t entirely sure what part of free will he was doing. Or what had been exorcised between them. “And some of that seems to be for fun, like,” There was a public holiday on Tuesday and a public holiday on Thursday and people were either fading or leaving town. “
But there is so much of it. When everything is set to 11, start looking for an 8 or hope that maybe there is a 12 somewhere. It’s a glorious kind of monotony, like a painting that probably hangs in another rarely visited niche of the Rijksmuseum, but it’s still monotonous and it’s exhausting, sometimes annoying. So when she comes up with really wonderful things, like describing the same piece of Johnny’s Sex as “Two King’s Flaws,” you just wish she’d had someone put on the kind of filters that she rented out the rest would have been caught being washed away.
The biggest problem with the tumescence of prose is that it diminishes sympathy for these characters and their struggles. they just don’t seem real at all. When I read, “He thought I wanted to quench my grudges. But it makes me feel like a person. “The only thing I thought was that no one had ever thought that, except maybe the scriptwriter of a hastily scripted noir voice-over.
Here’s a hyperliterary way to tell if you like this novel: If you love the language and playfulness of John Banville in The Revolutions Trilogy, but could do without the narrative solidity of the stories about people like Copernicus, Kepler and Newton , You will enjoy “Stella Atlantis” (although you still want your phone within reach). But if you liked the information on the people who actually existed, or if you think this paragraph is way too much in baseball, you probably won’t.
Bert Archer Bert Archer is a writer, speaker, editor and fair-weather Instagrammer @ world.of.bert.