Fiorentino is kind of an indie hero whose poetry and prose has won him numerous awards and a barrage of critical acclaim. In Asthmatica, his book of linked fiction, a slightly pathetic teenage character called Jonny negotiates the gross details of adolescent boyhood. Fiorentino manages to make a funny and charming book, which is about himself, yet fictional as the same time. The same tactic is at work in Stripmalling, which concerns a slightly older Jonny who is without direction and unable to commit to his cool girlfriend, Dora. It also dips into the future when the couple are divorced with a child and Jonny is trying to write a project called “stripmalling,” a follow-up to his successful book Asthmatronics (ha ha). All of the intertextuality and metanarrative eventually get a bit dull without a great story to back it up. The sharp, poignant observation that made Asthmatica effective is missing here.
About halfway through the book there is a brief intermission in which many of the jokes told in the book are illustrated as comics. They are mildly amusing. The story then continues and sort of wraps up. The last third of the book is a mishmash of in-jokes and ‘bonus material,’ including a graphic novel version of the story, a workshopped script, comic where-arethey-nows, and the kind of character and location sketches seen in DVD galleries. It’s funny, not really enlightening and obviously filler. I applaud Fiorentino’s use of weird formats but stripmalling doesn’t quite qualify as a literary experiment.
Essentially this is a book about struggling to write a book and in that sense it is not particularly original. The destruction of stripmall culture in suburban Winnipeg and around the world by big box stores provides some really potent and evocative material here but, even though Fiorentino has a great topic, he messes around a lot and eventually misses the opportunity to create a transcendent combination of art and politics. (Kris Rothstein)
by Jon Paul Fiorentino, $24.95, 178 pgs, ECW Press, 2120 Queen Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, ON, M4E 1E2, ecwpress.com