Reviewed by David M. J. Carruthers
Polyamorous Love Song. BookThug, 2014.
Jacob Wren’s Polyamorous Love Song is a lollygagging jaunt through a world populated by armed furries, orgiastic libertines, aspiring artists, and underground leftist terrorists. Injecting himself into the vein of postmodern literature, Wren is a novelist’s novelist, metafictionally attending to his own technique and those of his author-characters, and contesting his readers’ preconceptions of narrative and the novel. Polyamorous Love Song, as an experiment in style, is more an intellectually indulgent read than an affective one, and readers seeking the conventions of a unified plot or well-developed characters will be hard-pressed to enjoy Wren’s self-conscious writing.
Oscillating between profundity and heavy-handed redundancy, the novel’s self-reflexivity and its interrogations of authority and aesthetic ideals are its most intriguing facets. Wren collapses layers of diegesis, confounding the reader’s sense of whether he or she is at any given moment reading a scene from character-author Sylvia’s A Dream for the Future and a Dream for Now (or her secret society’s other novels of the same name), or one of the unnamed (sometimes-)character-narrator’s escapist fantasies, or a scene from Filmmaker A’s new filmmaking (which is no filmmaking at all) or the new new filmmaking (which is simply filmmaking, again). The effect is often disorienting. Such confusion, however, is testament to the author’s mastery of the postmodern, placing him among a camp of Barths, Barthelmes, Borgeses, Pirandellos, and even von Triers.
The reader of Polyamorous Love Song is never allowed to forget that he or she is reading a novel, and yet, quite paradoxically, these same signposts of fictionality encourage the suspension of disbelief, allowing Wren to surprise and dismay his reader at the turn of each page. Beginning and ending with the liar’s paradox—starting with one of the multiple (two or possibly more) narrators contradictorily explaining how he will not write about the artist, Paul, which may or may not be his real name and who may or may not have a motorcycle (7-11); and concluding with a reveal that shatters any pretense of narrative continuity, resituating the author within his colourfully chaotic storyworld—the novel posits each chapter as a semi-autonomous short story, with each radically transforming the significance of the last. While reviewer Keith Cadieux warns, “Readers need to be prepared to wrestle the narrative into submission” (The Winnipeg Review), suggesting that through an act of brute force the reader can untie Wren’s discursive knot into a singular narrative thread, the true pleasure derived from reading Polyamorous Love Song comes at the revelry that unfolds as each level of narrative is secretly subverted by every other. Readers will find themselves captivated by Wren’s playful style, like the artist chained to the radiator at the Furry Front HQ, taken for a suspiciously dream-like ride through the alleys of the author’s fascination.
If there is one strand of consistency among the fragmented scenes of Polyamorous Love Song, it is resistance—whether the Furry Front’s resistance to cultural suppression, the Left’s resistance to the conservative-killing virus, Paul’s resistance to publishing, everyone’s resistance to monogamy and heteronormativity, or the novel’s resistance toward being a novel. Likewise, Wren writes about sex without being sexy, creates a rather paranoiac world without evoking a sense of panic, and conveys political and sexual radicalism without intensity. Such flattening, however, is not the result of the author’s inadequacy, but rather, the novel posits these trivialized extremes as representative of their age—moralizing, as it were, against the insignificance of action in a world wherein freedom of thought and expression has evacuated the joie de vivre from even the most illicit of activities. Besides, Wren trumps any accusations of bad writing with the inclusion of his many authorial foils—Paul critiques Sylvia’s spy sci-fi; Sylvia critiques the new filmmaking; Filmmaker A critiques realism; Kangaroo critiques Melanie’s humanism; and our German hairdresser critiques America and taste in general. Polyamorous Love Song is right for any who appreciate a novel with a very dry, sardonic sense of humour, even and especially one that’s not afraid to have a lark at the reader’s expense.
David M. J. Carruthers is a PhD Candidate in English at Queen's University where he specializes in the environmental humanities and contemporary North American literatures. He is the co-editor of the anthology Perma/Culture, forthcoming in Routledge's Environmental Humanities series, and a copy editor for the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada's biennial publication, The Goose. His research interests include popular representations of grassroots environmental activisms and phenomenological approaches to plant-human intersections.
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