Quill & Quire
Michael Turner’s previous novel, The Pornographer’s Poem
, employed a variety of narrative forms, including letters, film scripts, diary entries, and monologues. His latest work, 8×10
, is similarly unconventional: a collection of fragments intricately assembled to create a novelistic whole. But 8×10
veers off into more daringly experimental territory. The book’s most striking oddity is that it contains no proper nouns. The characters are nameless, as are the settings they inhabit. Furthermore, characters have no distinguishable racial or ethnic traits, and the time in which the book is set is similarly vague. The elision of identifiable characteristics seems intended to challenge and disorient the reader, and it succeeds in doing both. The novel’s structure compounds the disorientation. Composed of a series of short sections, seldom more than a few pages, the novel follows the lives of eight characters, with 10 segments each. The only guide to the overall structure is pictorial: a simple 8×10 grid pattern that prefaces each section, with a different square of the grid shaded in sequence as the novel progresses. Characters in the novel are engaged in various professional and personal pursuits, their lives frequently beset by war, crime, migration, and personal crisis. The range of both character and event is impressive: there are parents and children, addicts, retirees, refugees, soldiers, salespeople, and artists. Turner’s prose is extremely spare and carefully crafted, heightening the tension that imbues much of the novel. The relationship between the novel’s sections is tenuous at first, though increasingly characters cross over into one another’s narratives, suggesting that the surface sense of dislocation belies a deeper connectivity. It becomes clear by the conclusion that there is an intricate and subtle orchestration at work, and yet the novel fails to resonate as a whole. Though many of the sections are compelling on their own, their impact is fragmentary, not cumulative. Rather than opening up possibilities of personal interpretation for the reader, 8×10
’s conceit of universality excludes those gratifying instances of recognition that would justify the challenges it poses.
"A hallucinogenic read, and not just because descriptions of drug use abound. The language is clear and precise, and the bits of plot move fast to crescendos and bursts of conflict. . . . Reading 8 x 10
is sort of like standing on a rooftop with the most precise camera in the world, zooming in on moments in people's lives where you are momentarily allowed access to their inner thoughts, and then moving along to the next person. . . . I hope Turner starts a trend in Canadian literature, because Canada needs more writers like him."
— Zoe Whittall, The Globe and Mail