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Reviewed by Jean Smith
A stereo needle is set into grooves that crackle as warmly as any winter fire. Keeping in mind that we can now watch the yuletide fire burn on our TV screen over Christmas, wondering if it’s a loop. Forget about chopping wood and heat. Look at the fire and recollect (back to when we didn’t have options).
M.A.C. Farrant‘s observations entice me to savour a cultural climate that promotes ceaseless gobbling. In this pre-sliced anti-history of the present, Farrant examines the condensation accumulating on the Saran wrap on the Petri dish of experiments between humans. Her idiosyncratic characters – typically the fallen souffle type – are concocted with questionable portions of sanity.
Making good bread is tricky – it’s the by-product of a specific set of chemical reactions. Having worked in a bakery I know how difficult it is to get le pain du raisin d’etre (raisin bread?) from the slicer into the plastic bag. Sticky buggers, some of them end up sur la plancher (on the floor).
M.A.C. Farrant has mastered sticky subjects and simple machinery; she gets them into wrappers and on the shelf in record time, dusting off her hands and turning on her heel to head back to the kitchen to perfect other procedures for revelation.
For me, all pent up with ideas about change, the book is an accidental left turn onto rural concession road – the car I am travelling in skids to a halt in gravel. The engine is shut off. A rare and unexpected silence throws a glaze over whatever I had been thinking; the universal thrill of being alone resonates like a good déjà vu.
My brain is full enough trying to get a grip on all the new laws from the last century – Relativity, jet propulsion, radio waves, Kraft Dinner. What I’m more interested in knowing is how many new laws one person can be expected to reasonably handle? I’d say about one – the fact of their own existence.
I told her to take off, get lost. But she was already lost.
I laughed out loud on the first page, for Christ’s sake.
A gallery owner recently asked me how long it took me to paint a particularly simple piece (2 bent lines attached to blobs in 3 and a half colours). I said, “About 35 years.”
I’m hung up. Hung up on altering, expounding, and exposing. I need to change things. I write so I can edit. I play music anticipating future repetitions, reproductions of the original. I attempt to save the essence, by shredding off the useless. A knife running down a bar of Ivory soap creating that overly perfumed scent, fingers sticking to the whiteness, that 99 44/100% pure substance that 56/100% bugging me, begging me to force it toward perfection of purity. This is change. The impulse to improve everything, possibly the single most irritating thing women insist on doing. The quest to perfect, to change, what is.
This M.A.C. Farrant is a crafty one – trying to pass off “working on change” as “working on a vision”. And these stories, directives, signets…add up like profiles on a matchmaking website. Or they are a solemn journey through days of the month, moving forward to revisit previous prevailing moods from another perspective.
I do one thing three ways. I think about people. At work I look at photographs of faces, and wonder at these people projecting themselves, tender as buttons, into the world, backwards, through the looking-glass, visibly manipulating their visage to obtain admiration for their bodily configurations. I ride the bus and listen in, figuring out relationships between passengers, hoping there is something wild going on behind limp morning expressions. I look at profiles of men on Lavalife, read notes from 53- year-old men who live in Delta, convinced that I’m their “special mellow lady”. Oh lord, bring on change!
M.A.C. Farrant supplies a ripping off of the Saran wrap, animating the people, giving me the snippets in microscopic soothings with flesh-eating viscerality. So plausible that I want to stick my fingers in my ear, close my eyes and hum loudly. Oh she’s gone and married Mr. Bean! Yes – that Mr. Bean! Then it’s over, and I’m on to another set of variables that hastily construct a different dimension.
Without malice or mocking, those features of comedy and satire employed by American humo(u)rists; M.A.C. Farrant delivers us from the evil of over-describing and gets right into the reason for her whirling around like a busted weathervane or a game of spin the bottle played on a vinyl table cloth covered in pizza grease.
Efficient, funny, profound, endearing and defiant. I’m not even sure she knows her actual station in life – female writer in this age of obvious lack of interest in such character flaws as middle age. I like her. A personality shines through, encouraging me to believe in my own observations, that everything isn’t doomed to perpetual dissatisfaction and angst.
Like how a really sad song can make you feel better, Darwin Alone in the Universe, is a double album as durable as Best of Bread.
This review first appeared in The Rain: The Vancouver Book Review (Vol. 2, Issue 1) in 2004.