FABRIZIO'S RETURN by Mark Frutkin (Knopf Canada), 313 pages, $29.95 paper. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Ottawa's Mark Frutkin, author of - count 'em - three poetry books and seven novels, one of which, Atmospheres Apollinaire, was short-listed for the Governor General's Literary Award, the Trillium and the Ottawa Book Award, likes to situate his narratives amidst historical grandeur, and his latest, Fabrizio's Return, is no different.
The fantastical tale finds its footing in 17th- and 18th-century Italy, and the story's spun around the mystically infused life of priest (and healer by day, alchemist by night) Fabrizio Cambiati and devil's advocate Michele Archenti, who's been appointed by the Vatican to vet Cambiati's candidacy for sainthood.
While Cambiati, in 1682, is busy mixing up potions, counselling his townspeople and attempting to ignore the duchess-evoked ache in his nether regions, Archenti, in 1758, is devotedly Nancy-Drewing his way through villager testimony hailing Cambiati as a magical miracle worker: he cured disease and madness, brought the dead back to life, created cathedrals from thin air, turned a river into wine.
With its elaborate cast of characters, including a magical violin, a travelling troupe of commedia dell'arte players, mysterious tinctures, apparitions, a returning comet and the alluring and enigmatic granddaughter of the aging duchess, the text really has the makings of a carnivalesque romp of envious proportions. Add in the narrative's slippage through time periods and this should be one of those books you simply can't put down.
Unfortunately, pedantic writing stalls the story, which is overloaded with unnecessary detail. The careful construction feels cumbersome, and the narrative lacks those fill-in-the- blanks that make for quality reader engagement the ones that make me stretch. Furthemore, the commedia dell'arte performance that often interrupts the competing narratives of Cambiati and Archenti is supposed to bridge gaps and build drama by anticipating, mirroring and augmenting the meta-tale, but instead it just slows the development.
The result? A rather dull textual experience confined to overbearing authorial parameters.
Fabrizio's Return was a good idea but it feels as though that idea's been overworked, then forced into a structure that stifles rather than envelops.
Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org