Charm­ing novel rev­els in North End roots

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Dave Wil­liamson

SASKATCHEWAN’S Dave Margoshes — poet, short-story writer, nov­el­ist — knows a few things about writ­ing, and his new novel is, among other things, about novel-writ­ing. It’s also about mem­ory and how ev­ery­one, in re­mem­ber­ing, em­bel­lishes the facts, of­ten un­wit­tingly. And it’s a look back over the 20th cen­tury in Canada from one en­gag­ing racon­teur’s point of view. This thor­oughly read­able and hu­mor­ous novel will es­pe­cially ap­peal to Win­nipeg read­ers; much of it takes place right here, in the old days. When we meet main pro­tag­o­nist Zan Wise­man, it’s 1988 and he’s 82, has re­cently moved to Cal­gary, and is dis­cussing his life with a young psy­chother­a­pist named Zelda. (That the novel has two key char­ac­ters whose names be­gin with Z sug­gests you can ex­pect a lit­tle quirk­i­ness.) Ever pa­tient and po­lite, Zelda, over six months of weekly meet­ings, draws from Zan de­tails of his Jewish up­bring­ing in Win­nipeg’s North End (“They say Portage and Main is the cen­tre of Win­nipeg but that’s a goy­isha fab­ri­ca­tion... Selkirk and Main, that’s the heart of Win­nipeg city”). He drops out of school, yearns to be a writer and falls for Luna, a pro­fes­sor 15 years his se­nior. She in­spires him to write a novel. “All dur­ing the two years and more he’d laboured over The Wise Men of Chelm — writ­ing it, rewrit­ing, hon­ing, pol­ish­ing till he was sat­is­fied with ev­ery ac­tion, ev­ery ges­ture, ev­ery word — he’d had at his avail­abil­ity her hot breath and cool hands, her pas­sion along with her whis­pered en­cour­age­ment, a muse in ev­ery sense.” The book is pub­lished, but soon falls out of print, only to be re­dis­cov­ered years later and made a popular and crit­i­cal suc­cess. Mean­while, Zan be­comes em­broiled in Com­mu­nist party ac­tiv­i­ties (Win­nipeg’s leg­endary Joe Zuken, another Z, puts in an ap­pear­ance), has a brief, love­less mar­riage with a woman named Goldie, moves to Toronto, en­joys life with a teacher named Rose, and works at var­i­ous jobs while bat­tling the world’s long­est case of writer’s block. He winds up with another pro­fes­sor, Myrna, in Las Ve­gas, of all places. Wise­man’s Wa­ger is episodic, and lit­tle is de­liv­ered as lin­ear plot. Through his ses­sions with Zelda, Zan re­flects, re­con­structs, sorts and an­a­lyzes, piec­ing to­gether the high­lights, of­ten re­turn­ing to those he’s al­ready men­tioned to en­hance or con­tra­dict his rec­ol­lec­tions. His child­hood with his par­ents, his brothers and his sis­ter be­comes es­pe­cially vivid. Zan’s rush of lan­guage, spiced by Yid­dish words, is rem­i­nis­cent of the first-per­son nar­ra­tives of Philip Roth char­ac­ters such as Alexan­der Port­noy and Nathan Zuck­er­man. One of Zan’s older brothers, Abe, is still alive, still run­ning a tai­lor’s shop in Cal­gary. Margoshes di­verts the reader from the ther­apy-driven nar­ra­tive with fre­quent all-di­a­logue scenes be­tween Abe and Zan. An ex­am­ple of their ban­ter: “I can see you had a bite, which I don’t be­grudge you. My house is your house.” “Ex­cept the kitchen.” “Ex­cept I asked you not to wash the dishes, not to touch things. How many times I gotta ask you, Zan­nie?” “So what’s so wrong with me wash­ing the dishes? They’re dirty, they have to be washed. Why not by me?” “Be­cause you’re half-blind.” There are also lively ex­cerpts from Zan’s jour­nal, as well as Abe’s mono­logues to his hos­pi­tal­ized wife, Dolly. Through Zan’s ther­apy ses­sions, he starts find­ing the in­cen­tive to write that elu­sive sec­ond novel. For the reader, it is quite con­ceiv­able that Wise­man’s Wa­ger is the re­sult. Margoshes has au­thored such fine books as the novel Drown­ing Man, Bix’s Trum­pet and other sto­ries and the de­light­ful po­etry col­lec­tion The Horse Knows the Way. Wise­man’s Wa­ger con­tin­ues their high stan­dard. Dave Wil­liamson is a Win­nipeg writer whose

lat­est novel is called Dat­ing.

Wise­man’s Wa­ger

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