BLOOD SPORTS by Eden Robinson (McClelland & Stewart), 278 pages, $32.99 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In Blood Sports, Eden Robinson gives up the ghosts and folklore of her debut, Monkey Beach, for gruesome fables of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, trading the lazy pace and gentle epiphanies of her earlier work for jagged narrative experiments and blood- and piss-smeared portraits of junkies caught up in a sadistic web.
Tom Bauer and Jeremy Rieger (originally introduced in Robinson's 1998 story collection, Traplines), cousins locked in a codependent mindfuck, are warped, complex characters in an addictively convoluted dynamic. A soft-hearted epileptic pothead trying not to perpetuate his family history of addiction and abuse, Tom seeks salvation through his recovering junkie wife, Paulina, and their baby girl. Jeremy, a coke dealer, user and sociopath and Paulina's ex-boyfriend resorts to nightmare-calibre techniques to maintain complete economic and psychological control over Tom, Tom's alcoholic mother and the rest of his family.
Jeremy's release from prison sets off a series of twisted manoeuvres, sending Tom and everyone he loves reeling through haunted memories of the past and into a downward spiral in the present and future.
Robinson's story shifts between letters written by Tom, third-person narration, choppy e-mails and chilling videotape transcripts. The sudden swerves can be jarring but feel oddly appropriate to the disconnect experienced by someone high on drugs or bloodlust. And by playing with narrative, Robinson manages to fill in an astonishing amount of information about her characters' pasts.
But the nearly non-stop violence makes it hard to figure out which events trigger each other, and it's not until the last few paragraphs that the entire book falls into shocking focus.
Still, if you can handle the sometimes unbearable images of modern-day torture, Blood Sports is a stomach-churning sucker punch of a read by a very talented risk taker.