Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).

I suppose one of the most wonderful things about browsing through old bookstores is that every one of them has a thing or two which is whispering your name, hoping you will find it. I found a used copy of Ken Sparling's wonderful debut novel Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall in this fashion. It was only three dollars at a shop across from Manuel's Tavern that I had not visited in literally twenty years, and which I had forgotten existed.

I also think, and I'm not sure why I think this but I do, that if you luck your way into a really nice find like this without paying very much money for it, then the least you can do is tell as many people as you can what you found. Maybe some royalties will trickle their way back to the author if enough people are listening.

Over the last few years, outside of detective fiction, the prose I've enjoyed the most has been experimental pieces like this. It's a very minimalist book, with the story of the narrator's life given in fragments and fractured anecdotes. It's not a book about plot, but character. The hints that the fictional Ken gives us in his very short stories and the casual conversations all suggest the enormous stress of his marriage, and his desire to be a better dad. Something's not going right, and I don't believe we ever learn what. I was fascinated by my attempts to decipher what has been going wrong with Ken, and wondering whether we were building towards an explanation. I found his rhythmic writing style very captivating, watching the repetition and progression of simple sentences fall into place.

I read the book over two sessions. It took me only a couple of hours, and I may not have found the payoff I was looking for, but the time was well-spent. I can certainly recommend this book to anybody who enjoys prose a little off the regular path.

(There's not a lot about Sparling's career and works online, but I did enjoy this profile at Quill & Quire. Check it out!)

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