It takes a gifted writer to bring back the days when some of us were gawky college kids, loud and pretentious and arty. Canadian Sean Dixon draws readers into a complex circle of people lurching into their 20s. A reading group dedicated to warped re-enactments of the books under discussion, the Lacuna Cabal meets in an abandoned building. Two nonmembers are pulled in when the leader lugs a heap of stone tablets across the rotting floor above them.
A playwright, Dixon first wrote this story for the stage, then as a novel. It's structured like a screenplay, the camera moving swiftly from one setup to the next.
INTERIOR, DECAYING WAREHOUSE. NIGHT.
ANNA and DUMUZI are fighting. There is a CRASH.
CLOSE SHOT: CEILING
RUNNER COGHILL falls through, clutching chunks of stone.
RUNNER: Well, I don't really mean to be here. Upstairs is where I —
ANNA: The, uh, building. How did you come to be in the building?
RUNNER: Cool it, sister. Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.
In short order we meet the rest of the cast, beginning with the members of the Lacuna Cabal Reading Group. In addition to Runner, whose cuneiform tablets turn out to be "pages" of the epic Gilgamesh, the group includes a playwright, a pre-op transgendered girl and Runner's 10-year-old brother. They're introduced by two girl narrators who continue the story without figuring in it. This should make the novel clumsy, but it works.
Every element, from the tablets to the "fitzbot" invented by Dumuzi's geeky roommate to one character's obsession with the anonymous Baghdad Blogger, will come into play as book group members run around Montreal reliving the ancient epic. Eventually they will put to sea in an attempt to complete the old story, as this remarkably original new story comes together.
Kit Reed's latest novel is "Enclave."