Simply put, John Goldbach is a good storyteller. In the world of Canadian small press hiccups and stalls, his refinement of storytelling is impressively, refreshingly competent. In his debut collection Selected Blackouts, the style is smooth, uncluttered, and clear; his sentences have the air of effortless polish. He attends to the appropriate sensory details and works consistent wonders with dialogue. But what’s also refreshing about Selected Blackouts (if a good blackout can ever truly refresh) is Goldbach’s willingness to entertain a variety of structural and generic options, shifting between television script to short vignette and back to the standard short story (though even more variation would have been certainly welcome). The strongest stories in this collection are the shorter works, such as “Odin Letourneau and Debbie Siskind’s Second Date,” “Conversations at Four A.M.,” or “Wedding”-pieces that showcase Goldbach’s rather Spartan efficiency and aptitude as a storyteller, his enviable knack with crafting immediately engaging and arresting opening lines and his ability to pull out and shut things down when the time is right. Selected Blackouts is raw, bittersweet and intelligent. It’s about our contemporary malaise-our lives of beautiful addictions and viral loves. This is a very strong work, and surprisingly strapping for a debut.
However, praise for the book seems to verge on the hyperbolic. Of course, it’s Insomniac’s obligation to push its own products, but calling the collection “utterly original” sounds a little fishy. Many of the stories tread upon somewhat familiar ground-sad-sack failed writers, listless alcoholics in their late twenties, smart people who drink or smoke too much and then face the terrible angst of hang-over remorse-so what seems to arise is a blurring of character, voice and story. In other words, a lack of distinction or challenge. Most of us are sad or promiscuous or addicted or vapid; we only need to turn on the TV (or login) to be reminded of our rotten stomachs and bad consciences. Though Goldbach depicts this cultural predicament with a knowing and believable hand, it’s just this knowing that’s the problem-we know it, he knows it and Bret Easton Ellis certainly knows it. Hopefully, for his next collection, Goldbach will pull out all the stops and deliver something entirely unexpected. And judging from his better moments in Selected Blackouts, I bet he’s got the right moxy, to pull it off. (Spencer Gordon)
by John Goldbach, $19.95, 172 pgs., Insomniac Press, 520 Princess Avenue, London, ON, N6B 2B8, insomniacpress.com