fusing introspection with dream- like description, Lance Blomgren's photo-driven Walkups documents the paradox of Montreal's architectural permanence and its transitory downtown residents. Walkups takes its name from the bagel capital's signature row houses, which have been subdivided into apartments accessible only by winding outdoor staircases.
Dozens of brief, anonymous narratives create the sensation of overall loneliness experienced by a newcomer to the city. Blomgren's perspective is that of the eternal outsider, the spying neighbour who knows the daily habits and neuroses of the people living nearby but not their names.
Blomgren distinguishes among apartments only by their street addresses: 4120 Clark, 5170 Durocher, 78 Villeneuve East. Sporadic black-and-white photographs by Charles Chalmers, riddled with secrets, offer cryptic clues about what goes on behind closed curtains and doors.
The only story Blomgren revisits is the first-person description of a man living in the Apt. D'Amours, a story that weaves in and out among the other tiny narratives. The man is determined to escape his isolation. His elusive, fated love affair with an upstairs neighbour, the biology student Jane, becomes the filter through which we see all the other apartments in this book.
Blomgren's skill as a writer lies in the way he seduces the reader and maintains a voyeuristic titillation despite the lack of a cohesive plot, though he sometimes reaches too far in an attempt to make his phrases poetic.
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Walkups by Lance Blomgren (Conundrum), 109 pages, $12 paper. Rating: NNN