This Dusty Bookshelf: Seven Good Reasons Not To Be Good by John Gould

It’s been a while, hmm? Not much of a reason. I’ve been busy, but technically not too busy. I’ve been crocheting instead of blogging. Working hard at my 9-5 instead of blogging. Reading instead of blogging. Visiting the very best of friends instead of blogging. Snuggling in with the Husband and Netflix instead of blogging. Y’know. Living.

I know you’re all waiting for an update on the attic progress. I’ll get to that. But not today. Today, a book review!

Seven Good Reason Not To Be Good
By John Gould

Let’s start with a synopsis. Matt travels from Vancouver, where his marriage is quickly dying because his wife is cheating on him with the coffee shop girl, to Toronto, where his best friend has contracted AIDS and has decided to allow the disease to run its course uninhibited. Matt goes to save his friend, to convince him that life is worth living, that what he’s doing isn’t virtuous, as Zane seems to be claiming it is, and, if it is, well, virtue is vice.

By the way, Matt is a film critic. No, wait. a film kritik.

I picked up this book because of the author. I read Kilter: 55 Fictions by John Gould in university, in a contemporary Canadian literature course taught by my favourite professor. I enjoyed it well enough, enough that when I found this book at the library, I was a little excited to give his full length fiction a try.

It was well-written, and there are parts of this book that will stay with me. But this book was a slog. I wasn’t excited to pull it out of my bag each morning and each afternoon on the subway. When I reached the middle of the book I was already writing a trashing review in my head. But, as I came out on the other side, at the last page, I discovered an appreciation for it, discovered, in fact, that I almost liked the affect it left behind.

Here was the problem: I didn’t like Matt. Matt was pretentious. Matt was the kreative kritik, so above his own role, so entitled, that he didn’t even identify himself as a critic. And, since I was being shown the world through Matt’s eyes, everything in the book was covered in this slimy layer of pretension. His childhood, his relationships, his messed up marriage, his one-night stands, all of it, Gould seemed to be holding up in a way designed to deliberately push, to shock, maybe, as if to hold up this character as the epitome of art, as if to say, “This is the lifestyle of an artist.”

Oh, artifice. I wonder if that’s exactly what Gould was doing, building purposeful layers of artifice over Matt’s character in order to pull them away. I didn’t see it though: Matt never completely loses his pretentious character. But as the novel draws to a close, Gould seems to work in a few truly honest moments with Matt. Through other characters, Gould adds some new layers to Matt’s character, layers that go beyond ‘The Artist’ and dig deeper into ‘The Human, The Man, The Friend, The Son, The Lover’.

Is this book worth the read? Yes. It’s set in Toronto, which I love, and the writing is strong. And, it covers all sorts of issues and themes – AIDS, homosexuality, infertility, morality, fidelity, home and coming home. But, be prepared to struggle with an unlikable character and some assumptions about what it means to be immersed in creativity. It’s a book to be read carefully, critically, watching for nuance and artifice. It’s not, maybe, a book to consume, but rather a book to pull you in to deeper engagement with words, life, death, and virtue.

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