Monday, October 31, 2011

Tony Burgess' Ravenna Gets

Appropriate that I picked up Tony Burgess' 2010 vignette collection Ravenna Gets today. Horror ain't my thing, but literary horror sounded more intriguing. Thoughtful literature is to horror as is erotica to porn. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The plot: the townsfolk from Ravenna, Ontario kill the residents of neighbouring Collingwood.

Why? Well, there are a lot of possible reasons, but it's all conjecture.

Perhaps Burgess is making a satirical swipe at the entire horror genre where an "ah-ha!" psychological explanation will be tied like a tourniquet on the book's (or movie's) last pages and scenes.

Perhaps there's a clue in basic power trade-offs where one "picks up on this. Weakness." (p. 70.). But, no. The story subverts that. The one who, in the above quote, feels momentarily empowered is, seconds later, killed.

Perhaps it's a simple dream, or wish-fulfillment, and the murderers can be seen as liberating angels: "It's that he knew that when she left he would want to die." (p. 62). The victims are in one sense as depressing in their mundane lead-ins as is the (later) sudden received violence. But no, again. The victims at times are about to kill others, as well, and (in the collection's final brief chapter with the previously innocent primary character) sometimes succeed.

Perhaps this is Burgess' take on the Mad Max psycho-scenario where marauding bands of (literally) hungry thugs get their kicks in an eat-or-be-eaten energy-depleted world. But ... no, again. There is no hint that food or gas or heat or a basic level of economic activity is missing.

Perhaps the intriguing third paragraph on page 85 (I won't reveal it here) joins aesthetics, dream imagery, creation, and implication in a brave symbolic necessity. But that's doubtful because the story bursts out of its bounds and violently binds imagination with its non-symbolic realization.

What, then? Perhaps Burgess is making the scariest (and most responsible) statement of all, far scarier than the paper blood gushing out of stabbed hearts and perforated heads: there is no reason for a lot of the violence, which is also an everyday feature of our non-fictive world. (The first, above "perhaps", then, is partly correct.) As someone wisely noted in a vicious world only a breath away in the chasms of history: a staple of violence is its banality. And Burgess has accomplished much in this collection in that he has had to surmount the structural and aesthetic difficulties attendant in the (mostly stupid) horror genre. The writing, in other words, is what saves Ravenna Gets from the shotgun pump book dump. That, and its aforementioned anti-message. One example from page 66: "Sprinklers toss party rice across lawns and bent crosses like plague graves hold yellow leaves and hot tomato sacs."


Like last year, I'll be posting, shortly, mini-reviews here of some books that made this year's Gov-Gen poetry longlist. That should continue into early December.

No comments: