THE SOUL OF ALL GREAT DESIGNS by Neil Bissoondath (Cormorant), 224 pages, $29 cloth. Rating: NN
Neil Bissoondath can really write, but in his latest novel he gets trapped by his own unworkable premise.
Alec (that may not even be his name) poses as a gay man, convinced that that's the only way he can remain a successful interior designer. Sumintra calls herself Sue to disguise her deeply conservative Indian background.
When they meet at a vintage car show - a detail that becomes important later - they guard their real identities with a strange passion. Alec takes Sumintra to out-of-the-way places where no one can spot them and learn his het secret. Sue goes so far as to lie about who in her family died in the Air India bombings in order to avoid having to introduce Alec to her parents.
Here's where Bissoondath starts losing his grip. His portrait of an Indian family dealing with culture clash in Canada has some power, but when the subject of the Air India disaster creeps into the narrative, we want more substance than he delivers. It's a missed opportunity, given that the event still haunts so many Canadian families.
But it's the premise that makes him drop the ball. I buy the slyly subversive, if slightly homophobic, notion that a straight guy has to pose as gay to get his home decorating cred - even though the painful truth is that, generally speaking, exponentially more people are forced to hide their queerness than the other way around.
But if he's a successful designer, Alec would not have to pose as a gay man to keep his cred, certainly not to the extent Bissoondath assumes in order to make his shocking climax credible.
By the end of this novel, you feel Bissoondath's gone off the rails, giving us a plot turn he hasn't earned.
Bissoondath reads October 31 at the Fleck Theatre during the International Festival Of Authors. readings.org.