Troubled, misguided protagonist too unlikable for readers to relate
BSpot marks Canadian writer Laurence Miall’s literary debut, a novel with an antihero at its centre — a disenfranchised young man with the unfortunate name of Luke Violet. Luke is a curious choice for a protagonist. On his blog, Miall admits he was told by at least one publisher that Luke’s character was “rather unlikable.” If the publisher weren’t so polite, she might have said he was a self-serving jerk and a liar who inevitably sees himself as the victim. The novel devolves into a character sketch of an angry, misguided man for whom the reader will find little sympathy. Miall grew up in the U.K., but was educated in Canada. These days, he lives with his wife in Montreal, where he’s a communications adviser by day at Concordia University. The novel starts out promisingly, sketching Luke as an impressionable youth in 1980s Edmonton, where his friendship and idolization with the thuggish Joel is an antidote to his own parochial family life, as Luke recalls years later: “After meeting him, I held everything about my own existence in low regard, even things that had been dear to me... My parents didn’t like me spending time with Joel... that was the very point. Joel wasn’t like us. I craved anyone or anything not like us.” Now in his 30s, Luke is living in Vancouver with his girlfriend Stephie, and working as a talent agent. A brief foray into acting had him appearing in a series of “Manspray” commercials, ana experience he would sooner forget.
Disillusioned that he’s not living the highh life he envisioned for himself, Luke is resentful at Stephie’s plans for them tot “settle down,” get married and start a family.f But everything changes when he receives a tearful phone call from his sister, Laura. After dinner at the home of their friends Jacob and Stella Brookfield, Luke’s parents are killed on the way home when their car is hit by a freight train. The story picks up a notch when Luke returns home to Edmonton for the funeral. Helping Laura clean out his parents’ house, Luke finds a photo of Jacob Brookfield, half-naked and posing for the camera. The kicker is that the photo appears to have been taken in Luke’s parents’ bedroom. Determined to find out the truth and confront Jacob, Luke can’t help digging further, even if the answers are unpleasant. But his sudden interest in protecting his parents’ memory is not the noble deed he professes it to be; Jacob is the perfect scapegoat to distract Luke from his own shortcomings. Luke eventually gets to the truth, but not before he torpedoes every relationship in his wake. The title of the novel, Blind Spot, is obviously in reference to Luke and his inability to see his own failings. At first, it’s amusing to watch Luke as he flounders through life — even if it occasionally makes you cringe — making one bad decision after another, and generally alienating everyone around him. But as the novel wears on, it becomes tiresome. A large section devoted to Luke’s memories of a family trip to Montreal is too long and feels unnecessary. Although probably meant to explain some of Luke’s deep-seated resentments, it’s simply not compelling enough to win the reader over. Blind Spot, while intermittently entertaining, never allows us to feel anything other than impatience and disgust for its main character. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the novel is that Luke feels no responsibility for the havoc he causes. The reader may hope in vain that by the end of the novel, Miall may offer a sliver of hope that Luke will see the light. Gazing up at his parent’s old house, his paint job already peeling and flaking, he is puzzled, as much by his shoddy workmanship as by the way his life has turned out. “I do not know what I did wrong. I thought I was following the instructions on the pail to the letter.” Perhaps Miall thought he was, too.
Lindsay McKnight works in the arts in Winnipeg.