Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Yellowknife by Steve Zipp

Stumble into Canada’s Northwest Territories with one of the many characters readers will get acquainted with in this strange tale. Meet a handful of biologists who are being chased out of their government offices and their jobs, a mosquito fanatic, three generations of First Nations (in the States, we'd call them Native Americans or Indians), a bureaucrat, a fisherwoman, a couple of con men and a dog of indeterminate age and genesis. Too long a list to name each one by name (or profession), readers may need a program to tell the players apart as Steve Zip unwinds his postmodern tale. Robert Service it ain’t, but the Northwest Territories is not the Yukon and Zip who still calls Yellowknife home, reminds us several times that the two are not synonymous.

Another reviewer, at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf, says in a lovely, succinct way, "This is not so much a book to read as to inhabit. You take up residence with a motley crew of characters and watch as their lives happen around you." She's right. I wouldn't recommend trying to read this book in short spurts--I kept getting distracted and it took me three times as long to finish it as it probably would have if I'd settled in for a few long afternoons of reading.

Part of this may be due to its postmodernity. I'm not a fan of postmodern books, but this wasn't as confusing as some I've read. A parody of stereotypes (or maybe a parody of real people Zipp knows) parades through the stories that amalgamate to form the book, reappearing where you least expect them and creating a distinctly surreal series of experiences--especially when the animals start talking.

Yellowknife is not an unpleasant read, but I think it helped to have my husband nearby when I wanted to ask questions like how cold it gets there or what it's like to drive on an ice road. He's also the one who pointed out the parody aspect of the book; I had been taking it way too literally and having an exasperating time with it until that point.

Many thanks to Steve Zipp for sending me a copy of his book, even though I don't participate in challenges (even the Canadian Reading challenge).

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