Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ticknor (Geist) by Stephen Osborne

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Relief from the enumerative school of writing can be found in Sheila Heti’s first novel. Ticknor (Anansi) is written in the manner of the great narratives of eastern Europe and South America, of Kafka and Stevenson. Neither the subject nor the setting seems promising in the common way: George Ticknor, a troubled citizen of nineteenth-century Boston, prepares himself to attend a dinner party. Like the persons first and third in the pages of the Ryerson Review, Ticknor stands, watches, sits, looks and so on, but always in narrative mode, and so we are repeatedly engaged and taken into the story by the simplest of sentences: “I looked about me for a towel but all the towels were gone”; “I can see the bicycles tied to the poles and the drooping awnings and my soiled shoes.” Ticknor’s story is told by Ticknor himself, to himself, in a complex version of the first person that ren ders wonderfully the near-second person that we use when we talk to our­selves: “There was a woman I loved more than books, but she is gone … You loved first a drunk, second a woman who was deformed in the face. I have only ever loved hopeless women …” Another virtue of this novel is the absence of “authenticating” detail: here are none of the tiresome enumera tions used to fatten up the “historical” novels of recent seasons. The optic nerve is not in evidence in Ticknor, a book that calls out to us to read with our ears and not with our eyes, and proves that the art of narrative remains strong enough to take us any where at all.

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