by Dennis E. Bolen
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011:
240 pp.; $18.95
Dennis E. Bolen’s latest collection of stories reads like a fractured novel where the reader is best served by reading the book from start to finish. A group of friends and acquaintances—best described as over-educated, under- or questionably-employed, and definitely too smart for their own good—reappear throughout the stories, becoming familiar through their myriad idiosyncracies which usually involve esoteric conversation and plenty of booze.
By no means gloomy or despairing, there is a sense of entropy here, of clocks ticking off the moments of a life, of chances blown, indeed an acknowledgement of lives that didn’t turn out quite as, um, anticipated. In a moment reminiscent of Joyce, Bolen’s first-person narrator speaks of the ubiquity of clocks in the urban surround: “There are clocks everywhere if you think about it. . . . Computer screens the world over scroll the clock. There’s the Gastown Steam Whistle shrilling it up every fifteen minutes. There’s the Noon Horn down at the harbour blaring the first four notes of ‘Oh Canada.’” But rather than symbolizing some modern background anxiety, time here seems to act more as a reminder: to get on with the business of living—and here the business of living is usually rendered in terms of cavorting and socializing, with alcohol and drugs always at the ready. Despite the overt boozing and the fact that most of the characters seem to express a sense of self-doubt over their life choices, or lack thereof, Anticipated Results really seems to be about the struggle to find happiness with the cards one has been dealt. In a way, everyone here’s a loser, but not really. The characters share a common thread of honesty. An awareness of responsibility for choices made, or not made, gives Anticipated Results a redemptive quality that overshadows its more nihilistic and fatalistic explorations.
The stories run the gamut from hilarious absurdities to brief slices of life that read more like descriptions of fleeting moments that vanish into the ether without explanation. Throughout it all it is the social bonds between the characters that carry the most narrative weight. Certainly the social bonds on display here are less than ideal, in some cases they’re downright dysfunctional, but Bolen seems to be suggesting that it is precisely in absurdity—entropy even—where all the fun takes place. Take for example “Detox” where the narrator describes an intervention that ends up in a bar with drinks lined up on the table and the subject of the intervention beaten to the point of hospitalization by those trying to help him. “An intervention? Fun?” says an incredulous narrator. But for us, it is fun, deliriously so. Or take “One of the Winters” when the narrator recalls a particularly combative final fling with a younger lover. “I turned back and caught a full picture of her just as she lunged at the door, her face a rage, her body hard and working. Feral. Timeless. A perfect human sculpture. I’ve got a feeling it might be the most profound moment of observation I ever have.” Throughout all the boozing and combat, however, there are glimpses into “normal” relationships. If anything, Anticipated Results revels in the basic human desire to connect with someone else—over a drink or six. »From issue #60