Critics praised Canadian poet Michael Redhills debut novel, Martin Sloane (2002), as elegant, thoughtful, lyrical plaudits that, while justified, suggest an aesthetic more attuned to the intellect than to the gut. A long look back at the loves and career of a found object artist, the book brilliantly dissected memorys vagaries and the mystery of vanished passions, but was less persuasive addressing the down-and-dirty riddles of everyday living.
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Fidelity rectifies that imbalance, in spades. The authors clinical attention to detail and poets faith in the exact are still there; but in these stories they drive a grittier approach to relationships, both sexual and platonic, than anything achieved in Martin Sloane. Fidelity is not a better book than its predecessor; but it exhibits a deeper sensibility, one that illuminates lifes darker corners without reveling in its ugliness.
If theres one thematic thread joining the topically disparate and uniformly unsettling tales in Fidelity, its betrayal: betrayal of a lover, of a child, of a friendship, of ones own hopes. In what could serve as the books representative piece, Cold, two middle-aged men, Paul and Louis, meander through Europe, their conversations reminiscent of the toxic gibes of bickering spouses, their only real connection the pseudo-friendship they shared while college roommates years before. When the violence and resentment lurking beneath the two mens awkward façade finally surface, the only thing more shocking than the eruptions suddenness is its impotence. The two men have nothing in common, but each has held on to an image of something shared, something that connects them, for so long that, when they lose it, neither of them can begin to say what it is that theyve lost, or why it matters that its gone.
Other tales Long Division, in which an 8-year-old math prodigy struggles beneath the shifting weight of his parents love, or the devastating The Victim, Who Cannot Be Named, about a father adrift in a world where teenagers, like his daughter, videotape their sexual exploits abound with writing thats somehow both taut and flowing, characters that actually act and sound like flesh-and-blood humans, and even, occasionally, a sneaky, bleak humor.
FIDELITY: STORIES | By MICHAEL REDHILL Little Brown & Company | 224 pages | $23 hardcover