As a kid I read a short story in a magazine that has stayed with me ever since, the poignancy of the story was so powerful I never forgot it. When you read a lot of fiction it takes a unique tale and way of conveying it to be unforgettable, I could probably name all the books I’ve read that have had that impact.
Which is why, reviewing Gagnier’s book has been such an unexpected experience. His little novella is one of those rarified stories I won’t ever forget, alongside Françoise Sagan’s novella, Sunlight on cold water, which has quite a lot in common with, whilst not being in any way similar. I don’t, however, want to compare this book with others; it would be too easy to say Gagnier could be the next Paul Auster (but he could) or that his writing has hints of Flaubert’s tragi-heroine Emma in Madame Bovary (which it does). Neither is it sufficient to note Gagnier has the phantasmagoric echo of older writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and yet simultaneously, is very much a writer of his generation the way the Beats poets captured theirs. Nothing will truly sum up his alacrity with words and conveying emotion, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
I will say, this proves novellas, which are making a strong come-back in the field of fiction, are a force to be contended with. In many ways it is harder to put into a short story, everything, yet we know by the likes of Roald Dahl (Kiss Kiss/ Over to you), that it’s not only possible, it’s like an extension of a favorite poem. Gagnier has that alacrity of verse, and his characters get under our skin very quickly and stay there. Of course, the protagonist, Leonard (who is not a liar) has the greater relationship with the reader, but Gagnier pulls off some very believable and well-rounded female characterizations as well as a slew of side-fellows who bolster the credibility and believability of his storytelling.
With the line; “Death is the ultimate break-up,” this novel plunges the reader into a fast-paced emotional rollercoaster, imminently relatable for anyone who has suffered loss or queried the fates. There are some classic lines that complement the strength of the story, including the retort; “Do you always talk like you’re already dead?” There is a lot of pathos and dark humor too; “If he’s a douchebag supreme, you’re engaged to marry him and he’s spending time with dying ex-girlfriends behind your back.” There’s also heart-stopping matter of fact horror and grief alongside a savvy understanding of the male psyche and human condition, this alongside a backdrop of death, which much like a classic black comedy, the theme of death prevails but is not off-putting.
When Leonard considers that; “You are doing this to see how you are,” that’s the crux of his experience thus far, but not his entirety. Leonard is a man who believes dishonesty is the devil’s playground yet continues to struggle to tell the truth, believing himself a broken soul who only messes up everything good he is given, this, therefore, is his story of redemption and discovery. As he says of his own catharsis; “Mom and dad left a house and a gaping hole in the ground. It took two decades to build my own house over them.”
Gagnier’s storytelling is at once a simple shock to the system, as it is wily and philosophical, it would not do his work justice to say he’s a modern author, because he has the informed maturity of a hundred voices previously working their way through his creative process. I am reminded of some of my favorite movies in the visuals this story provoked, namely The Rivers’ Edge, for it has a gritty, bittersweet undertone of youth turning into middle age, infatuation becoming love, connections transforming to loyalty, and the fragility of life. As Leonard says; “Every moment you spend planning for something to go wrong is one less moment you’ll have, in the end, to make things right.” Fortunately, Gagnier ensures his character arc is redemptive and profound, you won’t forget his little book any time soon.
Leonard the Liar is available at Amazon.com