Unusual Circumstances, Interesting Times: And Other Impolite Interventions


243 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-921586-27-2
DDC C814'.54





Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Fawcett’s book is a motley collection of highly revised essays on the
arts and on current problems facing the Western world that have been
appearing over the past few years in both “establishment” journals
(like The Globe and Mail) and more radical outlets (like This Magazine
and Border/Lines). He appears to be setting himself up as a
social-democratic Marshall McLuhan speaking up for the people and human
decency in the bewildering and threatening world of the 1990s.

He is, then, a queer mixture of the dissident intellectual and the
populist protester/preacher. He can write with equal facility about
poetry, Cambodia, and the trading of Wayne Gretzky. He is out to
challenge, irritate, disturb, censure (“It isn’t my nature to be
fairminded,” he comments dryly). There are, to be sure, aspects of the
man that one finds endearing: his continual crusade, for example,
against what he calls “Disneyfication” (the way those in power
deflect attention from serious issues by luring the unsuspecting into
the vulgar, mindless never-never-land of the tasteless Walt) is
admirable. Unfortunately, he chooses to flaunt a brashly militant style
that regularly lapses into a telltale combination of slang and profanity
in which genuine thought becomes impossible. This is particularly
distressing since someone who is a confessed admirer of George
Orwell’s plain thinking and clear writing, and who is capable of
dissecting Noam Chomsky’s seductive rhetoric, ought to take more care
of his own prose. It is, moreover, a debilitating strategy, since it
provides those who might do well to listen to him with a fine excuse to
shrug him off.

The horror-comic-style cover design, understandable once one has read
the book, is another mistake, not only because it is esthetically
repellent (just as odious as Disney’s prettification) but because it
will deter serious buyers. An ornery, angry book, then, which I didn’t
like very much but, to be (unlike Fawcett himself) “fairminded,” one
I shall remember long after many better-written books have been


Fawcett, Brian., “Unusual Circumstances, Interesting Times: And Other Impolite Interventions,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/11383.