GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM by Ray Robertson (Cormorant), 338 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
Ray Robertson's hero, hank, is an ordinary 30-something guy. And that's the problem with Gently Down The Stream. There's nothing extraordinary about it.
Hank can't finish his dissertation, while everbody else around him - his live-in girlfriend Mary and his best friend Phil, in particular - is on the verge of success.
Hank's survival strategy is to spend his days drinking at his local Parkdale dive, the Duke, but then the place goes out of business - another non-event that he manages to turn into a trauma.
Oh, and he loves his dog.
Hank lands a job as doorman at the Gladstone on karaoke nights, which leads him to down coffee and Sudafed in a cocktail that severely strains his ability to sleep and connect with Mary.
Cranked up, he takes to spray-painting graffiti and occasionally key-scratching the BMWs moving into his Parkdale neighbourhood. Thing is, we have no idea what's behind all the alienation. Here's a guy with zero politics - where are all the slogans coming from?
This is grotty Parkdale we're talking about, but that hasn't inspired Robertson to put any grit or edge into the writing. The observations are as ordinary as the guy doing the observing.
And the karaoke sequences are completely wasted. If Robertson had given us a little more on the characters who take up the mike, it might have helped.
Speaking of the Gladstone - the strip it sits on is experiencing the most intense gentrification currently going on in Toronto. There's a vague sub-theme here, protesting these kinds of changes, but Gently Down The Stream feels like it's already stale-dated.