‘Ev­ery­one is a pub­lisher now’

Novel ex­plores com­pul­sive need to share

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - IAN MCGIL­LIS

“We’re all open books now. Lit­er­ally.” Ar­jun Basu is talk­ing about the brave new world of so­cial me­dia and the role it plays in his new novel, but the sub­ject has a way of spread­ing in all di­rec­tions.

Wait­ing for the Man, is the story of an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive whose creep­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion with his life leads him to sur­ren­der him­self to a mys­te­ri­ous guru/ con­science fig­ure and em­bark on a quixotic odyssey. The novel also func­tions as an elo­quent in­quiry and sharp cri­tique into how the cul­ture of com­pul­sive shar­ing is af­fect­ing ev­ery­one.

“Our nar­ra­tives are out there now. Ev­ery­one is on Face­book and Twit­ter and blog­ging and this and that, and people we don’t even know are re­act­ing to those nar­ra­tives. It’s a cliche maybe, but ev­ery­one is a pub­lisher now.”

Basu knows of what he speaks. The 46-year-old was born shortly af­ter his par­ents im­mi­grated from Cal­cutta to Mon­treal (“I guess you could call me an Expo baby,” he said). Af­ter com­plet­ing a de­gree in cre­ative writ­ing and film at Con­cor­dia, he worked as an edi­tor at Tun­dra Books for five years, then for Air Canada’s in­flight mag­a­zine en­Route as edi­tor-in-chief from 2001 to 2007.

He is now con­tent di­rec­tor at the mar­ket­ing agency Spafax.

Through all that time, he has writ­ten: His first book, the story collection Squishy, was pub­lished in 2008, and he is some­thing

Pof a phe­nom­e­non in the Twit­ter­sphere, where his 140-word Twisters sto­ries have drawn a huge fol­low­ing.

“You don’t write just be­cause you want to,” he said of his lit­er­ary vo­ca­tion. “You sort of have to. But I never be­lieved in the starvin­gartist rou­tine, so work­ing for book pub­lish­ers and mag­a­zines was a nice way to keep me happy ca­reer­wise with­out feel­ing like I was dam­ag­ing my soul or some­thing.”

The temp­ta­tion is to read the new novel’s me­dia-savvy hero, Joe, as a stand-in for Basu. Like Joe, Basu is the first-gen­er­a­tion son of South Asian im­mi­grants, but as it turns out, the sim­i­lar­ity pretty much ends there. Where Joe’s par­ents buy fully into the Amer­i­can sub­ur­ban dream and ex­pect their son to do the same, Basu’s par­ents weren’t the kind to force any­thing on their two kids.

“My par­ents were very easy­go­ing and very sup­port­ive,” he said. “They were the types who would in­dulge your in­dul­gences and your in­ter­ests. If one year I was in­ter­ested in one thing, my dad would start buy­ing books about that. I was never pushed. For them, it was about hap­pi­ness.”

A kind of shadow theme in the novel is priv­i­lege: Joe’s ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis is some­thing he can act upon at least partly be­cause, as a well-re­warded ur­ban pro­fes­sional, he can af­ford it. But Basu was think­ing more of self-ful­fill­ment.

“A few people have al­ready men­tioned (priv­i­lege), which is in­ter­est­ing,” Basu said. “The char­ac­ter hap­pens to come from a rel­a­tively good place — he’s suc­cess­ful, and ev­ery­one around him is rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful as well. But I didn’t set out to talk about priv­i­lege so much as the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness. There’s a sort of drifter malaise. Joe’s not sat­is­fied with his life. That’s his con­flict, that he’s not happy and he knows he should be.”

Wait­ing for the Man (the ti­tle was in­spired by Lou Reed’s song on the first Vel­vet Un­der­ground al­bum) is likely to in­spire all kinds of in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

“Oh, I’m pre­pared. Some people might love it, some might hate it. I just hope not ev­ery­body hates it,” Basu said.

While he waits for the re­views and re­sponses to roll in, Basu can al­ways dis­tract him­self with tweet­ing. He was an early adopter of the medium.

As for fu­ture trends in so­cial me­dia, Basu has a case study: His 14-year-old son. “He’s kind of post-email, and not much into Face­book,” Basu said. “What kids his age are into, I find, is the tem­po­rary stuff: Snap Chat, in­stant mes­sag­ing, things that go away.”

Pierre Obendrauf/Postmedia News

Mon­treal writer Ar­jun Basu, 46, has not only writ­ten a new novel, he is some­thing of a phe­nom­e­non in the Twit­ter­sphere.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.