Dinner along the Amazon

Description

253 pages
$6.95
ISBN 0-14-007304-3

Year

1984

Contributor

Reviewed by Matt Hartman

Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.

Review

This retrospective collection of Findley’s short work is dedicated to Marian Engel. The epigraph runs:

We will sit in a circle longing for the nights of Moscow. We will bite each other’s fingers, to see the blood. We will continue to clean our houses. We will make artifacts.

Engel, who died at the age of 51 in February 1985, had a commitment to the written word as much as to the Canadian state of mind and culture. Findley (arguably the country’s best living novelist) has no less of a commitment. Speaking in Vancouver in February 1985, he addressed the problems associated with the de-estimation of the arts in higher education, particularly in British Columbia. His topic was “matter over mind, art over matter,” and he spoke of the ways in which the duality is a manufactured one — manufactured by politicians and acquiescent academics whose control over the kind of education we in Canada are receiving has tightened to an unhealthy degree.

This volume of twelve stories dates from “Lemonade” (titled “Harper’s Bazaar” when it appeared in Exile more than 30 years ago) to the title piece written especially for this collection. Findley arranges them “chronologically, by decades.” In a short introduction he speaks of the obsession of the writer: “...writers are never through with the world they see and hear. Even in the silence of a darkened room, they see it and they hear it, because it is a world inside their heads, which is the ‘real’ world they write about.”

The world Findley hears and sees is crowded with recurring images he himself notices: “The sound of screen doors banging; evening lamplight; music held at a distance...;letters written on blue-tinted note paper; robins making forays onto summer lawns to murder worms; photographs in cardboard boxes; Colt revolvers hidden in bureau drawers and a chair that is always falling over.”

And always in these dozen stories there is the edge or the reality of madness, as there was in Famous Last Words, that kind of madness that has its roots in the destruction of the sensibilities that hold people together. In “Lemonade” a young boy’s mother is an alcoholic who allows him a brief audience with her each morning in her bedroom, the appointed time getting later and later until it ceases altogether. In “Wars,” another child is so distressed by rumour of his father’s going to war that he runs away and hides in the barn. A transactional analyst would probably describe Findley’s characters as sharing broken scripts; relationships have broken down because at some point the ego states have gone awry. In “Hello Cheeverland, Goodbye,” an upwardly mobile couple bent on making a film from a novel invite the novelist for a visit to their seaside home. Whatever connections are made are like bits of death — the intent is to kill all human feelings save the bastardized ones.

The title story is the last chronologically. The Findley symbols abound — the guns, flickering light, background music — but again the message is one of despair (not depression, but total hopelessness) whenever the lives of people touch. A dinner party arranged for a long-absent friend sets the stage for acid encounters. As Findley says at the beginning of “Losers, Finders, Strangers at the Door,” “…there are no beginnings, not even to stories. There are only places where you made an entrance into someone else’s life and either stay or turn and go away.”

Citation

Findley, Timothy, “Dinner along the Amazon,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37347.