Monday, August 31, 2009

Reader's Diary #521- Zsuzsi Gartner: Summer of the Flesh Eater


I hadn't heard of Zsuzsi Gartner until CBC chose her as a Canada Reads panelist a few years back. (Odd really, since they insist on hiring celebrities for that gig.) I was smitten. She was witty, defended Barney's Version for goodness sakes, and let us in on one of her measures of good fiction: is it globally aware or is it hermetically sealed? She would have you know that the former=good, the latter=bad. I've come to really appreciate this gauge and it's one of the most used tools in my book mining kit. What does it mean? Globally aware is not globally conscientious. It's acknowledging pop culture, news events, and technology. If characters are meant to be living in our world they should be affected by these things. Such references don't have to monopolize the story, but I hate reading a book supposedly set in modern times that doesn't mention TV, for example. I haven't had a TV in over a year, but good lord, I'm affected by it.

In Summer of the Flesh Eaters you can count on many references of this nature, but Gartner delightfully takes it a step further. Google "Zsuzsi Gartner" and "hermetically sealed." Clearly she hates it. I'm guessing Tupperware would not make a good housewarming present in the new Gartner household. Not only has she avoided it (hermetic seals, not Tupperware) at all costs in this story-- expect references to REO Speedwagon and to the woman that threw her baby off the Capilano bridge a few years ago-- she also opens the seal on her characters' lives. It is the story of a well-to-do neighbourhood in North Vancouver that doesn't quite know how to handle the new guy; a man who drives a Camaro and gasp! drinks beer straight from the can.

At first I was skeptical. Was Gartner just another one of those elitist who hasn't come to terms with her own elitist existence and distances herself by making fun of other elitists? Geez, is Obama running again? What's with all the accusations? To her credit, while Gartner does indeed poke fun at their snobbish expense, the mulleted beer-from-the-can guy isn't spared either. It's all so wonderfully cynical. I suspect most male readers will do as I did and try to fit themselves somewhere in between the two types of men presented. Female readers? Your take will probably be somewhat different-- and I'd love to hear it!

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

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