1368 Across seventeen stories
Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth
by Christopher Evans
Toronto: House of Anansi, 2022
$22.99 / 9781487010331
Reviewed by Brett Josef Grubisic
Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth manages a neat trick, the kind of move that could inspire many an author to mutter “I’d give my eye teeth for that.” The stories of Christopher Evans’ accomplished first book read as confident and effortless; they’re assured and mature, as though sprung fully-formed from the proverbial shell. Well-shaped, they exhibit thoroughbred pacing, immersive set-ups, distinctive characters, and snappy dialogue. They’re inventive, wide in range, and, often, enjoyable because they judiciously deploy humour and levity as a counterbalance to sobering subject-matter. In real life, who knows how long the author toiled over them and how much sweat he expended? On the page, though, his stories are anything but laboured. Evans might not be a born storyteller but practice, as measured by Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth, creates the persuasive impression that storytelling flows abundantly in his veins.
Across seventeen stories Evans zeroes in on an intriguing miscellany of characters and circumstances — abandoned children, “an adventure in cross-series community-building” (with coyotes), and work gigs involving owls, “a self-started holistic dog food company,” a mall kiosk, and musical accompaniment for a suicide. He visits imperfect romances and marriages (as well as fiery break-ups and divorces) regularly, and meditates on characters who navigate dicey odds with as much grace as can be expected given character shortcomings and the limited prospects of Truth’s worlds.
That said, Evans’ take on conflict and resolution is often amusing. On “I Don’t Think So,” for instance, the narrator recalls a teenage joyride in 1991 while listening to Sonic Youth and enjoying the company of driver Marnie (who is, sometimes, “the wrong kind of too much”). The moment of infinite cool is demolished in a heartbeat when the narrator’s parents pull up next to them at a stoplight. Naturally, Mom and Dad are listening to an embarrassingly square radio station. Similarly, Richard in “Cakewalk” returns to his former elementary school eight years after leaving it. Now a video store’s assistant manager, he runs into bad news in the form of sexual temptation. He’s quickly shown — and bluntly too — that he’s not quite the canny adult he fancies himself to be. A novel response to a crisis is explored in lighthearted “Burrowing.” Facing a tanking economy and a craze for low-carb foods, in Alberta two muffin shop proprietors stumble into the endangered species game. Concluding in the West Edmonton Mall, the story hints that this duo has a lifetime of adventurous schemes and thundering mishaps before them.
Other pieces conjure scenarios with greater exigency. “Soundtracker” follows an underemployed narrator with musical aspirations and student loan payments in mind when he takes a job playing live music to accompany his client’s daily routine. He’s lifted out of his funk and overwhelming sense of alienation but soon learns the client has a “final act” planned that will require a unique funerary composition. Twin portraits of poor marriages ending badly, “Aunts and Uncle” and “The Murderess and the Heap” highlight fallout and collateral damage. Similarly, young siblings (eight of them) hear “Your mother’s left again” at the beginning of “Of This, We Were Certain.” They cope inventively (“All conflicts were dealt with through a panel of our sibling peers,” the narrator explains) but not without a few setbacks and an anger that lingers like wildfire smoke. Marriages come and go, the stories suggest, but onlookers feel (or remember) the effects forever.
In contrast to the live and let live outlook of the couple of “Burrowing,” “Registry,” “Over the Coffee Table, Down the Hall,” “You Better Run,” “Do the Donna,” and “A Dissection of Passion” highlight the complications of love — its queer logic, unknowable evolution, and explosive developments. The repercussions, examined with particularly grotesque vigour in “A Species of Setback,” leave the involved parties astonished or stunned; it’s as though the world is remade smaller and less accommodating after each heartache.
Evans’ characters are largely resilient. When Sam is curled into a ball and feeling overwhelmed in her solitude in “A Species of Setback,” for instance, her moment of despair is undeniable but also tempered by her core strength. Evans might conceive of his protagonists as damaged, weak, foolish, vindictive, and afflicted but he discerns in them a talent for perseverance. Then again, after rocking out to Pat Benatar, the cuckold of “You Better Run” relishes a victory over a rival while momentarily overlooking the fact that his unfaithful girlfriend promises further pain for days to follow. Strength, in his case, doesn’t necessarily equate to freedom from magical thinking.
Evans writes with appreciable concision and notable verve. Presented by a surefooted writer, the gallery of characters in Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth fascinates. Under Evans’ capable hands, squabbling couples, disgruntled teens, and lovers with stricken hearts command attention as they reach and stumble and reach once again for happiness, contentment, love, or an untroubled sense that everything is running smoothly at last.
My Two-Faced Luck, the fifth novel by Salt Spring Islander Brett Josef Grubisic, was published in October 2021 with Now or Never Publishing — and reviewed here by Geoffrey Morrison. A previous book, Oldness; or, the Last-Ditch Efforts of Marcus O, was reviewed by Dustin Cole. Editor’s note: Brett Josef Grubisic has also reviewed books by Brad Fraser, Robert James O’Brien, Kevin Holowack, Sarah Mintz, Cedar Bowers, Glen Huser, Dustin Cole and George Ilsley for The Ormsby Review.
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