GALVESTON by Paul Quarrington (Random House), 247 pages. $34.95 cloth. Rating: NN
I like Paul Quarrington. He's witty and aware, and he plays rock 'n' roll. But I am mystified by Galveston and totally perplexed by its presence on the 2004 Giller shortlist.
The book is not at all funny, which would explain the Giller jury's interest - humour is never the list's strong suit - except that Galveston has no heft whatsoever.
A group of storm chasers, or weather weenies as they're known inside the club, descend on Dampier Cay in the Caribbean in hopes of witnessing a powerful hurricane. There's Caldwell, who's discovered that winning the lottery cannot obliterate personal pain, Beverley, who's exorcising multiple demons, videographer Jimmy Newton, who's stupidly fearless in the face of the winds as long as his shot makes the Weather Channel, and charming locals trying to help out the deluded tourists.
Galveston (the title is a reference to a storm of epic proportions that happened decades ago) is supposed to be a study of obsession, but it offers little insight into what drives these people. It's also full of clichés.
Characters are trying to run away from their lives or are so hubristic that they think they can fight the forces of nature, and, yes, great sex happens when the storm hits.
The segment describing the storm has terrific energy, but that alone does not merit a nod from the Giller jury.
It's not as if this was a weak year, literarily speaking. Where's Emma Donoghue's Life Mask, or Helen Humphreys's Wild Dogs or Ania Szado's Beginning Of Was? If their publishers didn't submit them (each house only gets to send in three), their editors are really off their critical game.
Or maybe the jury's too stacked with Humber College types. Did Charlotte Gray and M. J. Vassanji, both instructors there, want to enhance the school's rep by putting fellow instructor Quarrington on the list?
I don't usually buy into conspiracy theories, but this situation begs for one. The jury doles out the prize tonight (Thursday, November 11)
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