Trou­bled, mis­guided pro­tag­o­nist too un­lik­able for read­ers to re­late

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Lind­say McKnight

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.

Blind Spot

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