8 X 10 Hardcover – Sep 29 2009
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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
Top Customer Reviews
I'll state up front that I liked this book. It was such a joy to read some Canadian literature that doesn't focus on the tried and true (and dull) bits that all other Canadian authors focus on. So don't pick this book up expecting to read the same old same old stories of immigrants struggling to make it around the turn of century Canada.
Instead pick this book up and expect to read a series of sometimes interconnected tales dealing with sex, war, marriage, and the trials and tribulations of growing up. And the best part of it all - the stories are set in a nameless city, easily being the one in the next province over or the one you currently live in. Everyone can relate to what's been written.
You won't be disappointed.
These stories, while not always connected on a narrative level, are connected through the shared themes of loss, addiction, war, sexual longing, marriage, displacement, and immigration. Like the title of the book suggests, they are snapshots into the lives of these peoples; Turner giving us a glimpse at their conflicts before moving on to the next. He may return to them later in the book, or someone connected to them, but you're never quite sure.
This is a book that begs to be read a second time to fully understand it. That may not appeal to some readers out there, but the book is written well enough that I can see my self picking it up a second time. It's slender size also plays to being read a second time. It is tender, evocative, heart-breaking, and sometimes hilarious, and the most impressive thing about it is Turner's ability to make me care for, and get involved in, the stories of these people in such a short span of time.