Review #15, I think: The Georgia Straight
Very interesting review of Cigarettes in The Georgia Straight. Interesting selection of stories to focus on. And now I've been compared to Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Cobain. I feel almost guilty for all the reviews this book has received. I certainly feel fortunate.
July 30, 2009
Buying Cigarettes for the Dog
By Alexander Varty
By Stuart Ross. Freehand Books, 198 pp, $19.95, softcover
Some books generate their own accompanying soundtrack, and Buying Cigarettes for the Dog is one of them. But why does what I’m hearing smell like teen spirit?
By rights, the score for Toronto author Stuart Ross’s story collection should lean heavily on doo-wop. The protagonist of the episodic suite “Guided Missiles”, Archie Matanza, spins discs at an oldies station, and as a fellow vinyl junkie I feel for him when his record collection burns up in an apartment fire he starts with a careless cigarette. “My record collection is like some modern sculpture now,” he mourns. “Just a molten blob of the best music ever recorded. Sort of puts a damper on my show.”
Of course, he’s got bigger problems. Matanza, like other Ross antiheroes—including the hostage-taking schlub in “Elliott Goes to School” and the sundry head cases who populate “A City, Some Rain”—is a man in the middle of a nervous breakdown. He’s being hounded by a ravine-dwelling Bible thumper, he doesn’t know that his neighbour Martita is in love with him, and he thinks the cure for his problems is to go off and live in a tree. “He would be best friends with the sky, which would bathe him and feed him, and in the winter it would keep him warm with a blanket of crystals.”
Yeah, right. And a shot of smack will keep the demons down.
Perhaps what’s got me humming Nirvana is that Ross makes smart observations about societal malaise within the context of a self-consciously stoopid medium. Where Kurt Cobain chose punk rock, Ross opts for short sentences delivered with blunted affect, but the effect is the same: the content gets under your skin but you wind up wishing for more, for some grace or some air or just the slightest promise of hope.
Balm never comes, and that makes Ross’s gritty yet surreal stories feel both grindingly irritating and weirdly true to life—to the point that when the last story in Cigarettes ends with a suicide, it feels almost like a relief. But it’s no surprise at all.
Meanwhile, 36 holds for the book at Toronto Public Library.
Over and out.