Spat the Dummy stars the eponymous, deliciously depressive antihero Spat, a 40-something alcoholic. As a youngster, Spat was abandoned by his mother. Some new information regarding her whereabouts leads him to Australia, but by going to meet a long-lost relative down under, is our main character only trying to flee his newfound responsibilities as a potential father?
While this is Ed Macdonald’s first novel, it is definitely not the author’s first professional writing experience. He’s written for This Hour Has 22 Minutes as well as Made in Canada and has even won two Gemini Awards for excellence in television writing. In short, Ed Macdonald is a talented and celebrated writer, and his 22 Minutes experience can probably explain the funnier aspects of this otherwise dark tale of intercontinental soul-searching and binge drinking.
The comedy is mostly in Spat Ryan’s sarcastic quips and his insulting thoughts, because other than that he’s around some pretty morbid people: his on-and-off, love-hate relationship with his ex-girlfriend (who he affectionately calls “Hitler”) is only made more complicated by the possible arrival of a baby. Spat ends up working in a disorderly bookstore owned by a friend he met at AA meetings, but the man is still visibly affected by an aggressively alcoholic past. In Australia, Spat spends a lot of time in the same room as Mick, a paralyzed and deformed man with whom Spat shares philosophical conversations. And that’s not even mentioning a brute of a father and a silent and disagreeable rich uncle.
It’s also a downward spiral. A mysterious metal object that flies through his window as he’s looking out of it injures Spat. Because of his weakened condition, he falls on the pavement, brutally hurting his face. The physical degradation doesn’t end there, as the main character is beaten up in an Australian bar because of a silly quid pro quo. Beaten up so badly that he has to be hospitalized, in fact. The Fight Club-esque self-mutilation ends, though, when Spat discovers newfound responsibilities, and starts getting in shape, by running up Mount Royal, for example.
Despite the brutal Australian pub assault, reminiscent of Junot Diaz’s recurrent “beaten to a bloody pulp” scenes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the book reads wonderfully. It is fluid, coherent, fun, and sometimes even light. It tackles the heavy and oft-explored subjects such as alcoholism, infidelity, abandonment, and it has the merit of doing it without being redundant or sounding like it’s trying too much.
The Montréal setting adds local pride to this well-crafted story, and it’s a pleasure to read about recognizable streets and places. It’s clear, however, that the writer is not telling us a Montréal story to please the locals, but a universal one.
Joseph Elfassi is a Montréal-based photographer, videographer and writer. He is a geek. For more pictures, articles and videos, please visit www.elfassi.ca