Book Review: Interference

cover_Interference

Michelle Berry, 271 pgs, ECW Press, ecwpress.com, $18.95

Billed as a novel, Michelle Berry’s Interference is in fact a kind of hybrid, a collection of 18 chronologically-arranged stories that take us from fall to spring in the lives of the residents of Edgewood Drive, in the small Ontario town of Parkville. In a kind of hyper-reality that the book otherwise eschews, the poor benighted Parkvillians have undergone a full, almost  biblical panoply of travails: cancer, sexual confusion, kidnapping, OCD, breakups, disfigurement, and on it goes. Taking a Canadian slant on the received New Yorker paradigm of suburbia-as-hidden cesspool, Berry offers almost no alcoholism or adultery, but plenty of women’s hockey. Interference is entirely told in the present tense, with only a rare nod to backstory, so that an air of documentary immediacy pertains. Enhancing the realist aesthetic is her austere, no-frills language (which, along with her focus on several teenaged characters, at times fosters an almost YA feel). The considerable heft of these stories is ultimately transmitted though the slow accretion of detail rather than florid, discursive showing-off. Berry’s main preoccupation is with fear as a psychic tax on modern life. Not just the Big Fears — of death, disease, the predations of an arbitrary universe — but also the more ephemeral fears of dislocation, submersion of self and unrealized potential. Her cleverest trick is to have the stories overlap, so that events are related from multiple perspectives; what seems grave from one can be innocuous from another. The lesson is Zen — we don’t experience the world, but rather our perception of it. The usual takeaway here would be the
communitarian one: ‘only connect’. But I suspect Berry has more ambiguous fish to fry. We in the collectivity must take the bitter with the sweet; your neighbour could be a pedophile as easily as a saint. So be open-minded. Live in the moment. Stay warm. And, all else being equal, best lock your doors. (Paul Duder)

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