Sunday, July 16, 2017

11. The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper

My wife had found this book and suggested I give it a read as her guinea pig.  I did so and polished it off in a few days (ah, vacation).  At first, I almost didn't make it through.  I was actually livid at times with the beginning of this book, which was overly-written and about just about the least interesting subject in Canada, the Toronto middle-aged, educated, urban white male.  It was educational, in that it confirmed a lot of my suspicions of this species from what I have read in the Globe and Mail and interacted with directly and indirectly over the years.  Nice fellows, great conversationalists and generally doing well in life, but just so unmanly and filled with anxiety about their unmanliness.  What is it with Toronto and being so scared about shit all the time?  They are almost as bad as Americans, who at least have guns and a fear-mongering media landscape that makes Canada look positively objective.  And the protagonist in The Killing Circle is the worst.  Guys wife dies and four years later still can't get over it at all.  And of course his only son is his most precious thing and he lives in constant fear that something is going to happen to him.  And there are lines like these:
It is a time in the city's history when everyone is pointing out the ways that Toronto is changing.  More construction, more new arrivals, more ways to make it and spend it. And more to fear.  The stories of random violence, home invasions, drive-bys, motiveless attacks.  But it's not just that.  It's not the threat that has always come from the them of our imagination, but from potentially anyone, even ourselves.
This is not only laughably preposterous, but possibly even offensive.  Toronto was never a dangerous city and the 21st century wealth spurt of globalization has only made it safer.  (A white journalist with a house on Euclid street has no right to claim fear and in doing so basically trivializes the real fear that the poor and people of colour suffer from police brutality and social inequality, legitimized precisely by this vague, bourgeois fear).

This book also does the thing where quotidien activities and mundane locations are elevated to literary heights.  Ooh, exotic, Chinatown ("...whole roast pigs hanging in butcher's windows, their mouths gaping in surprise"), wow Kensington Market ("one of the last places in the city where one can feel a resistance to the onslaught of generic upgrading, of globalized sameness, of money.").  It's relentless and makes one wonder where the editor was.

After having read the entire book, I think I know the answer to that question.  Because once we get past all this faux-literary navel-gazing, the rest of the book is actually a pretty decent horror mystery/thriller with an effective premise, interesting characters and a compelling storyline.  Wimpy protagonist joins a writing circle led by a self-exiled author who fled the Toronto literary scene in the 60s after a controversial first novel.  Shit gets weird, people start getting murdered and it is all connected to the stories in the group.  As is my policy here, I won't give away anything that could ruin the mystery, which is tough in this case because it doesn't allow me to write more about the positive aspects of the book, which really is the last 3/4.  It's not my genre, but if you like macabre tales of modern horror, this could be your jam.  I was honestly quite scared at moments and definitely kept turning the page.

My suspicion is that Pyper wanted to write a straight-up horror thriller, but because in Canada and especially if you are a Toronto writer who gets reviews in the Globe & Mail, you just can't do that.  You would never be invited to another dinner party again, let alone get published.  It was either unconscious or his editor pushed him to fancy up the beginning (or some combination thereof) to get critics and book buyers sucked in, my suspicion is that the beginning was all put there to make the book literary fiction rather than horror (the horror!) and thus acceptable for the Canadian market.

So, ultimately an enjoyable summer read and edifying both as an additional piece of evidence in the ongoing undermining of masculinity by Toronto-dominated media culture and of the ongoing snobbery in the Canadian literary community (and the two things are clearly connected).

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