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Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain
The Memory Artists

National Post
Saturday, March 25, 2000

YO! Canajon fiction, mon

One of our enduring national literary mysteries is just how Canada and the Caribbean ended up lumped together in the same regional category of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Let's see: something to do with those snowy white beaches in the Caribbean? Something to do with the fact that you can't get good bangers and mashes in Canada, either?

Whatever. As long as the prize keeps drawing attention to books as exuberant and smart as Jeffrey Moore's Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain (Thistledown Press, 396 pp., $21.95), it hardly matters. Nominated for the best first book award, to be handed out with the others on April 14 in New Delhi, it signals the arrival of a new, sophisticated comic author who combines John Irving's inventive virtuosity with Tom Green's contempt for everything stuffy and comfy in our culture.

The architecture of Moore's novel is superb. Jeremy, a sort of Montreal version of Young Werther, is presented in its opening pages with a template of the future-a randomly chosen encyclopaedia page whose entries, according to his kindly but unreliable uncle, Gerard, contain clues to his destiny. It takes him most of his early adulthood to find out it's all hogwash, largely via his attempts to woo the smouldering dark lady next door. It's some measure of his confusion or at least his determination to play out the script he thinks he's been handed, that he perseveres even after he finds out she's a lesbian.

En route to Jeremy's much-needed enlightenment, Moore, a translator and university lecturer, casts some surprisingly fresh aspersions upon academe and establishes a voice that's both ornate and deadpan. (Jeremy struggles to understand why his love object has hoofed it from his apartment: "Because she regretted confiding in me? Because of my Gallic words of love? Because her electricity was back on?").

Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain gleefully rejects its hero's overheated fatalism, and, in the process, creates a new sub-genre in Canadian literature: urban fiction with a smile.