Shelf Monkey

Corey Redekop and I seem to have worked at one of those hyper-mega bookstores at around the same time (the early ’00s) — albeit thousands of kilometres apart — because so many of the targets of his wrath in Shelf Monkey were published during that period, and subsequently sold in the thousands or millions, thus gaining notoriety amongst those whose job it was to sell books to these people who only ever seemed to be interested in stuff that was recommended by Oprah, or had a bright pink cover, or was about to be adapted into a terrible movie starring, let’s say, Gwyneth Paltrow. Wow, that was a long sentence.

Anyway, I felt a special kinship with Thomas, the protagonist of this novel, for this reason: once, we were both shelf monkeys, annoyed beyond reckoning at the literary tastes of the masses, people who’d come into the store and ask questions like “Where’s K?” — causing us to inevitably wonder, what are illiterate people doing in a bookstore?

In the novel, Thomas, a clinically depressed and insomniac ex-lawyer gets a job working at a major (though independent) bookstore in Winnipeg and slowly becomes a member of a conspiratorial group devoted to the liberation of literature. It’s basically the plot of Fight Club, and the narrator acknowledges as much, but the style and focus (and ending) are completely different, so this is no half-baked Palahniuk pastiche. Some of the characterization is a bit thin here and there, but the characters themselves are such familiar types that you can recognize them in any given bookstore you might care to walk into, so the occasional behavioral contrivance for the sake of the plot doesn’t really detract from believability or enjoyability.

The dialogue is thoroughly witty, Thomas’ desires and frustrations feel genuine, the style is quite original, and if you’ve got any sort of literary tastes or preferences at all, the discussions between the characters over which books are treasures and which ones are trash will have you laughing out loud in recognition. Let’s put it this way: if you hate the fucking Da Vinci Code, this book is totally for you! (Richard Rosenbaum)

by Corey Redekop, $18.95, 258 pgs, ECW Press, 2120 Queen St. E., Toronto, ON, M4E 1E2, ecwpress.com

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