Book Review 7/30 – You Comma Idiot, Doug Harris

I am not a huge fan of flying (landing is the worst!) but I do appreciate long flights for all of the personal reading & movie-watching time that they afford me. The non-stop trip from Vancouver to Sydney is the longest flight that Air Canada operates and provided 15 solid hours filled with disney films (Mirror, Mirror is MUCH better than the other Snow White movie that came out this summer) and Doug Harris’ “You Comma Idiot” (the only book I carted along in my “one bag” packing scheme).

“You Comma Idiot” is perhaps best described as post-apocalyptic fiction for the 21st century. That is to say: the apocalypse came and went with the turn of the century, and no one was the wiser. The main character – Lee Goodstone – is a lethargic, self-abusive under-achiever with enough of an ego that I think he must reflect some aspect of the author’s own personality. The story follows Lee as he negotiates his late-20s apathy and attempts to cope with a series of unexpected happenings – the sudden interest of his best-friend’s gal, a new dealer moving in on his territory, and the potential involvement of a friend in the abduction of a young woman. Plot summary aside, this review will focus on two (satisfyingly alliterative) elements of the book: style and surprise.

style – Doug Harris gives Lee a very appealing narrative voice. Perhaps I sympathize with the character because I am at that age where everyone I know could be Lee Goodstone; however, I like to think my interest in the character has more to do with the pacing of Harris’ writing. Somehow he captures the unpredictable rush of young-adulthood with the slow meandering plod of daily life. The beginning of Chapter 38 seems particularly relevant:

There are civilizations in South America where the East represents the past and the West is the future. If someone from the tribe leaves the village walking into the forests of the East, he is seeking to go back in time. If the person leaves towards the West, he is in search of a new beginning. A new life.

They build their homes with this in mind. Place their doors, angle their windows. Plant their headstones. In their culture you are either one who looks backwards or one who looks ahead. Over time, everyone chooses.

Personally, you’re not sure which way you would go. You’ve never been much of a Western walker, preferring the soft, nostalgic footpaths of the East. And yet events seem to be leading you West recently. The past holds less attraction for you now.

It’s hard for you to contemplate this. You’ve always resisted change, always needed the comfort of how things were before. And you don’t know whom to talk to. There seems to be no one left. You wonder if you have the courage to move forward. You’re unsure if the strength to embrace a new world is within you. Know how easy it is to fall back to where you once were.

Ah, fuck that noise anyway. There’s no tribes of Amerindians walking East. Or West. Or anything like it. Making life decisions that way, positioning their stupid little huts. You just made it up. You’re just fucking around.

surprise – I like books that reveal the world within in starts. Somehow it seems more realistic to learn about someone’s back-story in pieces rather than all at once (note: this is the very reason I do not have a Facebook account – I just prefer to learn about people in phases). Lee Goodstone seems to slowly escape through the pages of “You Comma Idiot” and – at least as far as I am concerned – he becomes much more real and  sympathetic as the pages turn. If you don’t really “get” the man revealed in pages 7 through 11, give it some time… you may be surprised, you may like what you discover.

verdict – “You Comma Idiot” has a lot to offer. If I am perfectly honest, I have to say I first picked it up because I thought the cover was pretty neat (bullet hole through the o in Idiot). That being said, this book could probably survive a boring cover page. The characters are interesting, well written, and involve themselves in a frenzy of activities. Take a look!

An Afterthought: the book is the feature of a dopey youtube video, the first part of which I hate (mostly because it does not do justice to one of the best parts of this book – the opening chapter) and the second half of which is actually quite cute (gotta love a good Jonathan Goldstein name drop… okay, I am a bit of a CBC nerd).


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