Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma-Cola

A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies Crossing Canada by Train

An American woman boards a train in Vancouver for a mock-noir excursion into metafiction. She's wearing a pillbox hat with a veil, and is on the lam for paperhanging in Seattle. "Call her, Our Heroine."

Hot on her heels (and other parts of her anatomy) is a skip-tracer masquerading as a railroad dick. He wears a fedora and boards the train at China Bar, an unscheduled stop in the Fraser Canyon. "Why has the train stopped for this man? For the plot, of course."

He walks into the club car, "and there she is: Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma-Cola, like a book title. Is this a detective novel or what?"

They occupy adjacent compartments like "two different frames of a love comic," and travel across Canada in chapters as brief as this one:

His address is, at this point, nothing but train. On a stretch of bad track his entire past falls out of the overhead rack and spills on the floor like underwear or playing cards.

"Drop something in there sir?" says the porter, who was passing by out in the aisle.

"Yes but it's alright," says the Man from China Bar. Lying on the carpet is his identification, the real one, and his purposes, which are large and high-calibre. He shoves it all back into the suitcase. He looks at his shoelaces, which cross each other like two single-minded arguments, and wonders how he got here, wearing feet like this.

The novel's point of view jumps around, and at times Our Heroine addresses the reader directly. ("Remember that.") The writing is playfully existential, and as imaginative as one would expect from a winner of the G-G for poetry.

American money is long and narrow like Virginia Woolf’s feet.

The train is going through evening like a detective through someone’s drawers.

Her hair falls down her back like a lot of wilderness resisting agriculture.

The train is pulling him forward like a zipper...

Author Paulette Jiles called the book a "mini-novel." It came out in 1986, weighs in at 105 pages, and ends - like a famous noirish film - at an airport.

Could Iqaluit be the Canadian equivalent of Casablanca?