IN THE PLACE OF LAST THINGS by Michael Helm (McClelland & Stewart), 338 pages, $32.99 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Michael Helm is the kind of writer you read more for the smaller gems than his bigger issues. His observations are so precise - even poetic - that you can dip into almost any page of In The Place Of Last Things and find something beautiful.
Not that there isn't a decent narrative here. Russ Littlebury, an alarming mix of classical scholar and guy with an infamous temper, has just put his father in the ground after nursing him alone for months. He leaves his small-town Saskatchewan home to visit family with his aunt Jean and his half-brother Skidder. Skidder's always looking for trouble and finds it in the person of Lea, a born-again young woman desperately seeking her possibly dangerous, much older ex-boyfriend.
When Skidder and Lea steal the car and split, Russ takes off to find them. On his own on the road, he flashes back to old memories as he ponders his penchant for violence, his father's sudden conversion from man with a mean streak to Christian believer and his own failed relationship with his idealistic teaching colleague Tara.
The problem is that the plot gets a bit out of Helm's control. The climactic confrontation with Lea's sketchy boyfriend is awkwardly paced, and Russ's connection to Tara - and our stake in it - peters out by the end, no matter how hard Helm tries to salvage it.
But man, this guy can put a sentence together. And the fascinating Russ Littlebury is unlike any other male character I've encountered, sensitive yet distant, literate but brutish.
Helm reads with Wayson Choy and Catherine Bush at Hart House Library on Wednesday (December 1). See Readings, this page.Helm reads with Wayson Choy and Catherine Bush at Hart House Library on Wednesday (December 1). See Readings, this page.