SOME GREAT THING by Colin McAdam (Raincoast), 402 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Colin McAdam's first novel is all about corruption.
Its two main characters have huge ambitions. Builder Jerry sees the land making up Ottawa's environs in the 1970s as a glorious blank slate only he can develop properly. But savvy bureaucrat Simon has other ideas.
Both start off with good intentions. Jerry loathes the idea of building cheap and does unique, quality work. Though born into privilege, Simon has some decent ideas about what a city can be. But both unravel when they become obsessed - Jerry with building a golf course, Simon with Kwyet, the young daughter of a civil service colleague who, Simon knows, has been on the take for years.
This is very much a Canadian novel, specific about its time and place. But McAdam's style is bold and fresh. Whole sections are written as stream of consciousness, and always believably - especially when Jerry's drunk wife, Kathleen, another fascinating character, rants on, or Simon talks to himself about his not-so-respectable carnal desires.
And the dialogue is dead on. McAdam really wants you to hear these people, with all their awkward cadences and non sequiturs. In his hands, conversation is more than just a means of advancing the plot or giving background information.
The stakes get pretty high when Simon starts attending McGill frat parties so he can hook up with Kwyet, and when Jerry discovers the extent of Kathleen's drinking problem. But just when you think the two strands might cross, they diverge, and the story kind of dies at the end. A framing device looks like a last-minute idea meant to give the book the tight structure it lacks.
But never mind. This is a terrific debut from an original voice.
Justly shortlisted for the 2004 Governor General's Award.