on January 7, 2010
One can tell by the tastefully-photographed naked woman on the front cover that "The Uninvited Guest" is not meant as pop fiction. Indeed, John Degen's novel is more arty than that. The first few chapters consist of random-seeming interludes from the life of Stan Cooper, whose job is to guard the Stanley Cup between playoff games, and while there is occasional commentary about the importance of hockey in Canadian culture ("With all due respect," a hearse driver says on p86 following a mini-lecture on the popularity of cricket, "who gives a crap about your cup?"), the novel at first seems destined to remain in the ethereal, mood-oriented mode common to traditional CanLit, accented as it is by Degen's clear yet sparse prose style.
However, as the focus switches to Stan's successor, Tony Chiello, a slyly-plotted story takes over as Chiello accompanies the cup to Romania, where he is confronted by a culture where game-playing is taken more seriously than in complacent Canada. Of particular interest are the various side stories told by Tony's Romanian associates about life in the old country, some of which take on a fable styling similar to the work of writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer (indeed, one wonders if Degen wrote the novel merely as an excuse to tell these asides). While not overly obvious, the narrative in "The Uninvited Guest" eventually ties together in a way that will satisfy most readers, although they might have to work a little harder to meet the author half-way. Luckily, by the end the rewards are there for the readers' taking.