Punker Than You

Dave McIntyre’s sprawling novel catalogues the punk scene of the seemingly fictional Toronto suburb of Morganfield in the ’80s and ’90s, coalescing around Matt Miller, a mercurial and contradictory big-egoed band leader. Former band mate Paul Cartwright, the novel’s narrator, writes this double-decade retrospective as an embittered corrective letter to a writer whose article in a music magazine gives Matt the bulk of the credit for making the Morganfield scene what it was.

The book is written entirely in epistolary form. I understand the choice to use letters as a means to convey the level of Cartwright’s obsession with his past, but it is stylistic tropes like this that sink the story, as the letters sag with extension. The pages tick past and McIntyre hits all his plot points, getting the characters successfully from point A to B with drama along the way, but as I read the novel, I don’t see Cartwright and his buddies, I see McIntyre at his computer, consulting an outline and thinking of where to go next. Later in the text, we also begin to get caps-locked asides written by Cartwright’s wife, complete with emoticons, as a means to flesh out his adult life — another narrative device that limits the story, rather than enhances it.

The initial appeal of this book for me was the littering of references I recognized — these punks name drop bands like DOA and Nomeansno, make zines, host shows in church basements, write manifestos for themselves and hope to get a review in Maximum Rocknroll, — the perfect mix of cultural signposts to draw you in if you have any connection to punk, especially over the ’90s. However, references alone can’t carry a novel.

McIntyre grapples with punk dogma, showing us punks who stand on stage and scream against capitalism or sexism while obscuring the ways they benefit from it. Cartwright is a thoughtful main character, capable of providing the caveats to complicate the stories of the communities he moves through. However, the large span of time covered, coupled with the limiting form, makes Cartwright’s narrative plodding and beige at times when it could have been vividly poetic. (Sarah Pinder)

by Dave McIntyre $15, 411 pgs davemcintyre.ca