A strange satire on grow­ing old

Toronto Star - - BOOKS - NANCY WIGSTON Nancy Wigston is a free­lance writer in Toronto.

“What a drag it is get­ting old,” sang a young Mick Jag­ger.

As his 60s loom, Pro­fes­sor Mar­cus O, the ti­tle char­ac­ter in Brett Josef Gru­bisic’s Old­ness; or, the Last-Ditch Ef­forts of Mar­cus O, would agree: ag­ing is a ma­jor drag. Even the liver spots on his hands point to a dire fu­ture: “do­tage, down­turn, de­crepi­tude, de­bil­ity, diminu­tion, de­men­tia, the dys­pep­tic de­clin­ing years.” Dyspep­sia? He’s al­ready there. Strangely, this ed­u­cated word­smith counts sun­bathing among his great losses, those days of “cau­tion thrown to the winds,” with no thoughts of melanoma. There’s more, nat­u­rally. On a fine Oc­to­ber day in 2023, he also re­sents not be­ing able to say “In­dian Sum­mer.”

Our cur­mud­geon’s spot­ted hands sym­bol­ize his re­mark­ably thin skin. Those un­fa­mil­iar with the petty vi­cious­ness of academia might be shocked, how­ever, by the prof’s cal­cu­lated re­venge against the fem­i­nist col­league he over­heard call­ing him a “fos­sil.” As for his stu­dents, those know-noth­ings, they “shopped and played elec­tronic games like champs and set­tled into their even­tual of­fice pens as read­ily as Hux­ley’s clones.”

Take L’Oréal Zhang, in­ter­ested in fash­ion (hence her nick­name) sit­ting time af­ter time in Mar­cus’s of­fice clad in bizarre out­fits, sadly un­able to achieve the grades she needs. For­eign stu­dent? Mar­cus of­fers no sym­pa­thy — es­pe­cially af­ter he catches her tap­ing him.

The ques­tion­naires pro­vided by a se­niors’ dat­ing site in­spire much widerang­ing satire, as Mar­cus looks back on the pre­ced­ing decades. Ad­dicted to fak­ing an­swers about his hopes and dreams, the never-mar­ried Mar­cus’ stroked-out first ef­forts are hi­lar­i­ous, re­veal­ing both hon­est re­ac­tions to in­tru­sive ques­tions (“asi­nine”) and a soul sadly un­fit for the fak­ery of so­cial me­dia.

As a char­ac­ter, Mar­cus re­minds us of Bernard Marx, Brave New World’s bril­liant, lonely, mis­fit. We may not love re­sent­ful, weary, Mar­cus af­ter five years, but we know him. Gru­bisic’s take-no­pris­on­ers as­sault on academia, lone­li­ness, west­ern real es­tate — all our cur­rent crazi­ness — ar­rives like a satir­i­cal tsunami, earn­ing its place among the finest dystopias.

Old­ness; or, the Last-Ditch Ef­forts of Mar­cus O, by Brett Josef Gru­bisic, Now or Never Pub­lish­ing, 239 pages, $19.95.

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