Book Review: As Good as Dead

Stan Rogal’s As Good As Dead: (a cautionary tale) begins with an anecdote about the quick rise-to-fame of Jack Kerouac after the publication of On the Road. This meandering tale provides some early insight – an indication of the plot development and narrative style that awaits the reader. The novel begins with middle-aged poet Victor Stone (an obvious fill-in for the real-life Stan Rogal) being convinced by his Toronto-based publisher to write a novel. Stone resists, his publisher insists, they get drunk and finally Stone agrees. The rest happens fast: the novel makes its way to Hollywood, it’s adapted into a screenplay, Stone makes a quick buck and begins living the famous nouveau-riche lifestyle with which he’s obviously at least slightly uncomfortable (being a good Canadian boy, naturally). While this sounds like a workable plot idea, the prose falls flat. Most of the novel takes place in Stone’s mind — a stream of consciousness littered with too many references ranging from pop culture and sports (does all Canadian lit have to mention hockey, Gretzky, the Leafs?); politics and literature; confusing booze-fueled thought-patterns and long-winded tangents-in-parentheses. For instance, Chapter Two begins with the phone ringing at nine in the morning. Simple enough. A slightlyhungover Stone spends nearly nine pages wondering “who could it be? who could it be?”. It’s tiresome and doesn’t allow for much insight into the nature of Stone’s character. From what I can gather, he’s a semi-depressed alcoholic writer – think Bukowski, but pathetic. The final one-third of the novel sees Stone descending into a noir-ish world governed by the rules of his publishing firm Venture. This conspiratorial organization represents the top names in literature (and also sports, politics, art). It is in these final chapters that Rogal’s polemic about the state of a consumer-driven culture comes to light and it’s understandably negative with The Powers That Be appealing to “the lowest common denominator, the herd mentality, the mass consumer.” However, it’s definitely not enough to resuscitate this story. (Mark Lamovsek)

by Stan Rogal Pedlar Press, $20, 60 pgs, PO Box 26, Station P, Toronto, ON, M5S 2S6

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