Kicking the puppy
Well, Cigarettes got its first negative review, from a Montreal weekly. The reviewer suggests I may want him/her to burn in hell for this review, but actually I'm just grateful that he/she gave my book some thought. One thing that puzzles me, though, is the statement "the book claims to be satirical." I don't think the book claims anything; it's just the molecules that make up a book. The only hint of what the reviewer might be referring to is in the Lee Henderson blurb, where he refers to my "overstimulated satirical imagination."
from Hour, July 9, 2009
Have and have not
Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Stuart Ross (Freehand Books), 198 pp.
Toronto writer Stuart Ross barks up the wrong tree in short-story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog
Recently, I spotted a friend of mine reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. She raved about the modernist author's minimalist prose, asserting that his writing is as simple as it is beautiful.
Although Hemingway's stark fiction may have a breezy, carefree quality, his exacting compositions are a testament to craftsmanship of the highest form, endlessly worked and reworked to create the illusion of effortlessness. Anyone who doubts that assertion need only pick up a copy of Buying Cigarettes for the Dog by Stuart Ross to see what I mean.
Ross' stories of Hemingwayesque prose are so raw and robotic they pale in comparison when measured against the works of the American master. The writing, although stark, lacks the depth of power required to grab hold of a reader and ensure engagement. Take for example the opening paragraph of the short story, The President's Cold Legs, which not only felt facile, but failed to dig its hooks into me and captivate my attention:
"The President fell into the river and his legs got cold and he ended up in a wheelchair. I was pushing him along the sidewalk and someone with lots of shopping bags stopped us and said, 'Did you know that's the President you're pushing there in the wheelchair?' Well sure I knew - this was the president with the cold legs."
Hardly evocative, Ross's prose feels uneven and void of poetic nuance. Where Hemingway was an obsessive polisher, who worked and reworked his fiction until it sparkled with intensity,
Ross's short stories feel like the end result is one or two rewrites away from truly compelling fiction. Although the book claims to be satirical, Ross's deadpan delivery fell flat on my ears; it was neither biting nor witty and didn't provoke a single laugh.
Back in the 1980s, Ross, who is a tireless self-promoter, played the part of the eccentric writer, standing on Yonge St. in Toronto wearing a placard that advertised "Writer going to hell: buy my books." No doubt Ross may wish that this reviewer burns in hell, if he should happen upon my assessment of his prose. But all the self-promotion in the world can't turn mediocre writing into a dazzling work of fiction.
Over and out.