news | Tuesday September 14, 2010

Our Anthropologist of the Absurd


Over the years, there have been so many hyperbolic puff pieces about female writers that rather nonsensically add a modifier to the name Alice Munro, it seems about time to try another tack. In the case of M.A.C. Farrant (“Marion”), she is more the Ben Stein or Steven Wright of short fiction writing, with near deadpan delivery offering observations and witticisms with a free slice of acerbic absurdity.

Farrant’s writing plays an interesting role in that it resides somewhere between the poetic and the prosaic in such a way as to call into question the medium of expression we use on a daily basis to provide ourselves with a modicum of truth, namely the news. To paraphrase the whimsical wish of the character Charles Swann, if only we were to open the paper one day and find, let us say—Pascal’s Pensées!

Then like a badass bizarro Pascal deciding to write her own version of Tristram Shandy about Darwinism, in a time when the term “creative non-fiction” is often being bandied about, Farrant unapologetically presents fiction that resists commonplace narrative methods and discloses truth, not only about her characters but about ourselves.

Down the Road to Eternity, incidentally the collection Farrant is most proud of, unites work from eight previous collections of fiction, from 1991 to 2007. The book follows the most quotidian wonders—a welfare mother looking after a sick pigeon, a vagina that arrives in the mail, a brain seeking to be frozen, an inventory of various breakdowns, an extensive study of commas in literature, and a conversation about the correct use of language:

I ask him if the four-letter word beginning with “f” and ending with “k” is all right. Also the seven-letter word beginning in “a” and ending in “e” which is used for rear end. “Are these words okay?” I wonder. These words, the organizer assures me, are fine: “There’s no problem with them. But they’ll walk out if you use the ‘c’ word.”

M.A.C. Farrant is a nominee for the 2010 Victoria Book Prize for The Secret Lives of Litterbugs.

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