The Parabolist

Blood simple

THE PARABOLIST by Nicholas Ruddock (Doubleday), 371 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN

Why do skilled storytellers blow it by going the splatterfest route? You get the feeling they can’t handle the emotional depths their own premises promise.


Like Andrew Pyper in his entertaining Killing Circle, Nicholas Ruddock takes great characters and situations loaded with potential and then veers off into thriller mode.

Jasper is a gifted med student with a complicated love life. His depressed brother, John, is flunking out of the same med school. No one can resist Valerie, the hot babe who’s a top student there. Roberto is an inspiring Mexican poet – sans credentials – who’s teaching the med students, and Bill, a French language prof, feels consistently thwarted by his publisher, but not as much as his bored wife, Joan, by her limited life options.

The Parabolist is part love letter to Toronto, where the story is set in 1975. It’s extremely well written, full of vivid images of everything from anatomy class to tony uptown neighbourhoods. There’s a ton of tension in the characters’ relationships, and the cosmic power of poetry is at the root of the narrative. Ruddock even ups the stakes when Jasper and Roberto confront a rapist one drunken night.

So why introduce the teen prostitute more than halfway through the book, and at page 300 the creepy psychiatrist, both characters that take the story to ultra-violent places?

Pyper did the same thing. His story of a wannabe writer who steals a story from someone in his writers’ circle goes off the rails when it careens into thriller mode.

Doubtless there are people who love this stuff – The Parabolist is Giller winner Vincent Lam-approved – but Ruddock cops out with his climax.

The Parabolist is a really good read. It’s also a big, bad cheat.

Brunch with Ruddock at the King Edward Hotel, Sunday (February 28). See Readings.

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