Monthly Archives: May 2014

New Tab, by Guillaume Morissette

New Tab, by Guillaume Morissette

For days after finishing New Tab by Guillaume Morissette, I kept thinking Thomas’ friend Shannon might pop up on Facebook chat. That’s how disarmingly, perhaps unwittingly, authentic the characters are in this book. That authenticity is especially surprising given that Thomas, Shannon and their shifting circle of roommates, workmates, classmates and various acquaintances are often just disembodied virtual entities, to each other and to the reader.

Morissette’s quietly witty novel is set in up to the moment Montreal and traces a year in the life of 27-year-old (well, somewhat inexplicably 26 to his ostensible friends and colleagues) Thomas, a disaffected video game designer looking languidly and yearningly, but not without an undercurrent of genuine determination, to change career and personal directions. Against a blurred-around-the-edges backdrop of dodgy accommodations, fleeting and vague relationships, substance over-consumption (it’d be harsh to call it abuse because it seems so tinged with a kind of innocence), Thomas makes his way. The reader peeks over Thomas’ shoulder at email and Facebook chat clues as to how he progresses, professionally and emotionally.

Thomas’ wit is wistful but rich and constant – a defense mechanism for a psyche both gently bewildered and perhaps singed around the edges from too much time spent online, and an ongoing, rueful delight for the reader, with gems such as:

“My approach with women was like stacking blocks really high in Tetris while waiting for a straight line that might never come.”

“It felt like I was trying to use social networks as a way to prototype myself.”

“Staring at my computer screen, I suddenly wanted to fold my Facebook into an origami crane.”

Morissette keeps the structure of New Tab loose, balancing Thomas’ frequently distracted state of mind while not creating a haphazard or unsatisfactory reading experience. The novel charmingly mixes the epistolary with instances where characters do reach across the static to try to connect, however awkwardly and tentatively. As much as the prevalence of digital communication (or miscommunication) seems to position New Tab as a kind of Virtual Reality Bites, in other respects, the form of correspondence is perhaps irrelevant – just that Thomas and his cohorts are corresponding and trying to communicate is key. In fact, New Tab and the likes of Pride and Prejudice share some literary kinship.

Finally, Thomas stumbles upon a connection between his current vocation and his aspirations:

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like video games and poems had a lot in common. They both tended to take themselves seriously, without caring whether or not the player or reader would be accepting them on those terms. In the story mode of any given Call of Duty, part of the pleasure, for me, came from making fun of the game as I played it, for taking itself so seriously. I sometimes experienced a similar kind of disconnect when reading poems, between the emotional landscape of the poem and my emotional landscape while reading it.

Video games were also often about the player achieving salvation, while poems were often about the speaker achieving salvation.

In the suddenly cinematic last few pages of New Tab, Thomas is propelled into the rest of his life. It feels like the Tetris blocks are falling swiftly and neatly. He is poised to open perhaps the most important new tab of all. The expectations might be downplayed, but you wish him well and kind of hope he pops up on chat or sends you an event invitation for his next poetry reading or book launch sometime in future.

An added delight of New Tab is another arresting book cover by David Drummond (the cover of Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault is a favourite). The cover of New Tab creates a wonderful sense of physical setting, with slanted transitional light, which could be early morning, or could be early evening, connoting the changes with which Thomas is contending.

See also:

Thank you to Véhicule Press for providing a review copy of New Tab by Guillaume Morisette.

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

Thirty-something advertising copywriter Joe doesn’t even realize something is wrong until he unwittingly turns his own professional expertise to perverse advantage on his own personal meltdown. Inexplicably disillusioned and disaffected with a career, lifestyle and life that many might find enviable, at least on the surface, Joe simply stops living that life one day and parks himself on his Manhattan stoop to wait for the Man to signal what he should do next. Who is the Man? Each reader who follows Joe’s journey in Waiting For the Man by Arjun Basu is likely to have a different answer.

Joe’s decision to wait for the Man to direct Joe’s next steps can be interpreted many ways. Is Joe paralyzed by depression, truly experiencing something otherworldly and transcendent … or what? Whatever the answer, it almost seems incidental in Basu’s pithy handling (honed by the social media equivalent of an eternity crafting striking one-tweet short stories called Twisters) of Joe’s clinical reaction to his own crisis, as he plays willing party to turning that crisis into a branding and social media event of some magnitude.

As that event starts getting out of hand, Joe perhaps conveniently discerns the signal he needs to depart. The journey commences, replete with pursuing media and copious junk food – rather reminiscent of some of the adventures of a notorious big city mayor we’re all too familiar with these days. Joe’s journey, however, even includes some meaningful if fleeting human connections – connections with people more endearingly and sympathetically sketched than Joe himself. Joe arrives at what is presumably the polar opposite of his slick, fast-paced Manhattan life, a remote ranch/resort in Montana.

Or has Joe really found the dramatic change of scenery that is supposed to symbolize the significant … whatever … it is he’s seeking or craving? For a time at least, Joe works with his hands – peeling apples in the resort kitchen – rather than his head. That sojourn from his own fevered brain is short-lived, though, and it turns out the Montana ranch is as much in perceived need of branding – you know, to take the place to the next level – as any of the products for which Joe built identities when he was thriving, however shallowly, in Manhattan. While a dire turn of events for Joe’s search for whatever he’s searching for, it’s a great satirical turn in the novel.

It’s a wonderful and fortuitous coincidence that this reviewer came to be reading Waiting for the Man one day while listening to a radio in the background tuned to popular CBC Radio program Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence. Much of O’Reilly’s examination of the mechanics of how modern advertising and branding works, and how those mechanics sink their talons into consumers’ emotions and psyches, is in glorious play in Joe’s musings.

You’d be hard pressed to pick one @arjunbasu Twister as the best of them all (although the recent “We’d been to karaoke the night before I lost my job. Was it my singing? Or maybe the gun I’d found. In my boss’s purse. On my bedroom floor.” is a zinger). Similarly, it’s nigh impossible to pull a definitive quote from what is the most compelling aspect of Waiting For the Man – its entrancingly paced and parsed words. The book is rich with well-crafted sentences that have benefited from the rigour with which Basu creates his tweet-length stories. There is a tight, potent economy of expression throughout.

But are you going to feel a connection to Joe? Is it even critical to feel that to derive measures of satisfaction and meaning from Waiting for the Man? This reviewer is not dismissing the main character because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and perhaps unbelievable – rather, very much crediting him because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and decidedly believable. He’s us, desensitized by and rendered somewhat helpless under the cloud of branding and digital everything under which we live these days. He’s not quite the cipher of Chance the Gardener from the Jerzy Kosinski novel and movie Being There, but Joe is someone onto whom we can to some extent imprint our own disillusionment and dysphoria.

There’s this …

Deep in my heart I was doubting myself completely, but I could not bring myself to admit this. I could admit that the trip was a cheap spectacle cooked up by the media to fill some minutes during the summer’s newcasts. To Dan, the prize came at the conclusion of the journey. The event only had purpose at its conclusion. To me, this ordeal was a path to the start of a new journey. A new life. That’s what I had hoped.

… but then, right at the end, there’s this …

I may have felt freedom. I’m not sure.

Oh, Joe is us all right. He’s irritating and his fate is inconclusive, but we can totally relate.

Learn more about Waiting for the Man, by Arjun Basu

Waiting for the Man in ECW Press book catalogue, including excerpt

Waiting for the Man book trailer

See also:

  • Book Review | Waiting For The Man by Arjun Basu
    reviewed by Lynne for Words of Mystery
    Joe is just your average guy who like several people feels overworked and burned out. One night he has a dream of a man who tells him that he is waiting for him, and it is that one thing that causes him to leave his job and home in search of this mysterious man. What follows is more than just a story of one man’s journey …

  • Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man (2014)
    reviewed in Buried In Print
    “We crave narrative,” Joe tells us.
    And the Reader who picks up Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man nods: a narrative craver.

  • Waiting for the Man – Interview with Author Arjun Basu
    by Katherine Krige for A New Day
    Joe is a cynic and his journey isn’t easy. For one, there is a mini van. And lots of bad pizza. Showers and sleep are minimal … Sounds like the making of any great adventure, right?

  • Review: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
    by Alessandra in The Book Stylist
    Joe’s journey is a mental one, where he establishes an acute and cynical awareness about the world we live in, a world that is pockmarked in ruts and rigged like bear traps for the unsuspecting.

  • Waiting For The Man – Arjun Basu – Review AND Giveaway
    by Luanne in A Bookworm’s World
    Basu has crafted an unsettling, thought provoking first novel, one sure to leave you taking a second look at many aspects of our society and our own lives.

  • Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
    reviewed by Heather Cromarty for Quill & Quire
    At an historical moment when everyone demands to be perceived as special and kids grow up wanting only to be famous, Montreal writer Arjun Basu’s debut novel ponders the possibility of escaping the ennui of modern life, where the safe, corporate dream jobs of our parents don’t offer the expected fulfillment.

Thank you to ECW Press for providing a review copy of Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu.