INDIGENOUS BEASTS by Nathan Sellyn (Raincoast), 184 pages, $22.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Shocking, fearless, disturbing : these words decorate the muted beige ancient-forest-friendly back cover.
Vancouver-based Princeton graduate Nathan Sellyn is 22, and the stories in his first collection, Indigenous Beasts, are indeed somewhat disturbing, offering a caustic look at the plight of angry young guys across Canada.
Men and boys dealing with shitty jobs, rejection and seduction are introduced without excessive description or too much psychological insight. These characters engage us with their bloody and hollow masculinity, and their stories work when Sellyn hits his narrative stride.
Some of them sparkle, like Bad Lake For Fishing, a tender, minimalist tale of homophobic bullying in small-town Alberta, or the portrait of the 30-something strip-club client in Ma Belle who falls in love with a dancer only to arrive back at his mother's house bloodied by a bouncer's fist. But some are formulaic, as though they had dropped off the creative writing school assembly line: random shocking moments, just enough emotional distanc,e and endings that cut before the cake feels baked.
Sellyn's characters are all fairly pathetic and broken, often mysogynist misfits, wannabe vigilantes or depressed guys with mother hang-ups. Sometimes they jump from the page in their honesty, like the confused millworker who sees a man shoot himself in the bathroom fixtures aisle at Home Depot. Unfortunately, that tale ends in an unsatisfying one-sentence wrap-up.
The female characters are routinely objectified and definitely lack personality. But most of the men lack complexity, too.
Still, on the whole, Indigenous Beasts offers sharp snapshots of characters lacking or seeking a moral core. At their best, they're compelling glimpses of men on the verge of breaking under the constraints of a socially imposed masculinity.
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