Douglas Cooper, Amnesia (Hyperion, 1994)
[originally posted 10Apr2000]
After a good deal of thought, I finally decided this one gets a **** ½ instead of a five. Why? Because, while it’s utterly brilliant, it doesn’t quite have the life-changing qualities as The Secret Service or The Diviners did. Ah, well, you can’t win ’em all.
Izzy is a very odd person. And on the narrator’s wedding day, Izzy shows up at the narrator’s place of business (yes, he’s there on his wedding day) and begins spinning his life story. The narrator, annoyed at first, soon finds himself becoming weirdly absorbed in the many strange events, which raise questions about both Izzy’s mental faculties (as the title of the book would suggest, there is always the idea that Izzy is leaving out some crucial details) and his own–the narrator also suffers from amnesia, and can’t remember anything that happened to him more than two years before the story opens.
Wrapped up in Izzy’s life story are the plots of any thousand novels—the coming-of-age novel, the Jewish-experience novel, the living-in-Toronto novel (which, according to Izzy’s dry sarcasm, is worse than the other two combined). A basic knowledge of the geography of Toronto is helpful, but aside from a couple of street corners, most of what passes for Toronto here is actually some kind of surreal fantasy-land; don’t worry if your knowledge of Canadian geography is nil. Cooper is more than capable of conveying the sense of hopeless bewilderment that comes from living in most large cities.
If you read the dust jacket, you’re inclined to believe that the major plot in here is Izzy’s relationship with Katie, a girl who’s been mentally scarred by the (imagined?) visitations of a “golden lover.” In actuality, the story of Izzy and Katie, though it overshadows the whole book, runs less than fifty pages, and other relationships in the book are just as important; Izzy himself is the main character, and everyone else plays the supporting roles in molding him, as is to be expected when one person tells his life story.
One way or the other, Cooper’s style of writing is wonderful. The blurbs on the back compare him to many disparate authors (Henry Miller and Kafka are the two that spring to mind first), but actually Cooper has a strong voice of his own, and he’s not afraid to use it. The book alternates between humor and horror, with an underlying layer of sarcasm that keeps the whole thing from ever becoming too serious, at least up until the book’s climax (which you can see coming from a few pages away, but that makes it no less stunning when it does occur). Very highly recommended, and will no doubt be one of my top reads of the year. **** ½