I’d planned to read a book of short stories for the Canadian Book Challenge, and I finally picked Katherine Govier’s The Immaculate Conception Photography Gallery, which I bought at a second-hand bookstore a while ago solely for its quirky title. (Okay, it was priced at ninety cents.)
That promise of quirkiness was more than fulfilled in this collection of fifteen stories. This book is populated by eccentrics and misfits, not to mention surreal settings. One of the stories titled “God is Writing a Novel” features Tling, an “ape who was political”, and who “had organized demonstrations against his government” in his homeland of Borneo, who moves to Toronto and has an affair with Ellen, a (human) professor.
Reading this book has confirmed what I’ve long suspected, that quirkiness is the asafoetida of prose; a minute quantity adds zest, but anything more provokes intense nausea. Initially, I was alternately beguiled and aggravated by Govier’s zany characters, but, by the fifth story, I flung the book down in favor of the latest Canadian Tire flier–oh, the relief. (I had, by then, apart from Tling, read about a man who was writing about Toronto real estate with a flat-tipped “calligraphy pen in Mediterranean-colored ink from his fifty dollar bottle”; the article was destined for a time-capsule which would also hold “the video ‘Roger Rabbit'” and “a collection of restaurant menus”. )
I was also bothered by Govier’s self-consciously objective tone–I could never quite make out whether she was laughing at her oddball characters or with them. Perhaps what really upset me was the seeming lack of compassion on the part of the author for her characters, many of whom seem to have been created solely to entertain (of course they were created for the latter purpose, but surely the short story needs to do more than that?). Once I got the feeling Govier didn’t really care for her creations, it was fatal. I quit reading –rare for me, for I think of abandoning a book halfway as a form of disrespect akin to wasting food, which, as anyone who’s ever lived in a third-world country knows, is right up there with matricide. But I digress. Perhaps I’ll try some of Govier’s other work, considering the paens to her writing on the back cover, but if anyone would like a free copy of The Immaculate Conception Photography Gallery, please let me know.