Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Reader's Diary #909- David Helwig: Close to the Fire
Each year when I complete the Canadian Book Challenge I try to read at least one book from each province and territory. Clearly certain provinces are easier than others. When it comes to Prince Edward Island, I usually plan on NOT reading Lucy Maud Montgomery but end up doing it anyway. It's not that I have anything against Montgomery, but her books tend to dominate the discussion when it comes to PEI and I'm sure other islander authors, living ones nonetheless, would like a little recognition now and then. Alas, it's just so much easier to get one's hands on a Montgomery book. For David Helwig's Close to the Fire I had to use an interlibrary loan.
Was it worth the trouble? (Trouble being a relatively simple process.) I suppose, as I have now satiated my curiousity about Helwig's writing, but I didn't enjoy it all that much. Close to the Fire deals with a lawyer who has found himself now married to a woman that was once his adulteress. Complicating his life at the present is the former husband who is dying and now wishes to stay with them. Being visited by the ghost of unfinished business is paralleled in the lawyer's attempt to finish Charles Dickens' unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The premise itself is certainly intriguing, but tainted somewhat by the character of the lawyer. Seldom have I come across a character as annoying. A narrator doesn't have to be likeable, of course, but he shouldn't be too much of a distraction to the plot. It took me so long to decide whether he was intentionally pretentious or if it was Helwig (I settled on the former), that I missed some plot points and had to go back. The lawyer refers to himself as "wicked uncle," and we all know how endearing it is when someone gives himself a nickname. The "wicked" part also implies that he's somewhat proud of his devious nature. In truth, he's rather pathetic and ordinary— not the first to have an affair, not even the first to attempt finishing Drood. He's less Humbert Humbert and more Will Ferrell's lov-ah character from Saturday Night Live (but sadly not as funny).
If wicked uncle is to garner any sympathy, from a literary standpoint or otherwise, it's perhaps in the detail that he has never fathered children, though his wife had two daughters with her previous husband. It's not often to come across a male character dealing with a childless legacy. The subtlety of this plot point is handled masterfully, as if wicked uncle himself is hardly aware of its significance on his psyche.