BROTHER DUMB by Sky Gilbert (ECW), 207 pages, $26.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Tender? Reflective? Subtle? These aren't the first words I'd usually use to describe anything coming out of Sky Gilbert's imagination. But his new novel, Brother Dumb, is all of those things.
Spanning the 40s to the present, it's written as a memoir by a very famous but reclusive writer - the cover design is meant to evoke shades of J. D. Salinger - who, though he wishes he could, can't stop writing and secretly wishes he could just head straight to a monastery and happily meditate in silence. Hence the title, Brother Dumb.
But he can't help writing and is refreshingly honest when he does. He talks about his girlfriends, the apartment he painted black, his disdain for parties and why art matters.
On the topic of his love life, he doesn't shy away from the fact that he prefers his women young and beautiful and likes to play a mentoring role to the objects of his affection. It's a marvel that in these sections our Brother never comes across as creepy.
You'd think the ick factor would be unbearably high when he finally confesses to having bedded a member of the Nazi party just after the war, but Gilbert's so successfully created a believable character that even then our sympathies stay with him.
Brother Dumb is especially fascinating when he talks about art and culture, the publishing industry, what makes a work of art successful and the perils of fame.
Sky Gilbert, himself a character in his own world, is invisible. There's no radical queerness, nothing arch - the ego belongs solely to Brother Dumb.
A great leap forward for one of Toronto's most important queer artists.