Reviewed by Robert Amussen
For the narrator of his novel, David Homel has imagined Aleksandar Jovic, a Belgrade clinical psychologist. The time is early in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Jovic’s wife of twenty years is a psychologist as well who teaches at the University. They have a teenage son more devoted to listening to turbo rock than attending to his studies. Since the boy is afflicted with an incurable form of kidney disease, his parents are inclined to indulge him. As a government employee, Jovic is forbidden from having a private practice. However, like many of his colleagues, he gets around the prohibition by seeing his private patients in his apartment. One day, a man he takes to be a new patient turns out instead to be a government emissary. He tells Jovic not only that the government knows of his illegal private practice but that he must now report to work at the hospital treating veterans of the war suffering from post traumatic stress.
Jovic’s new job assignment as a metaphor for the plight of the people of the former Yugoslavia makes sense as does the choice to dress him as a jaded east European intellectual with a world view of bemused irony at finding himself a passenger on a ship of fools and knaves. The difficulty with the novel is that neither Jovic nor the other principals emerge from behind their assigned roles to take on lives of their own. Their words and actions seem scripted. The narrative as a result becomes equally predetermined. When the novel ends with Jovic boarding a plane for Canada, it bears the unmistakable signature of the god out of the machine.
The novel’s prose is serviceable enough and Homel’s impressive understanding of the political and cultural dynamics works in its favor. While his sympathies are clearly on the side of the good guys, his fiction is not equal to the task he has set before it. It may be that in the present circumstances it is best to leave it to writers native to the region to tell us of their land’s malaise without necessarily providing a remedy for a cure. One thinks of the likes of Aleksandar Tisma, Imre Kertés, and Danilo Kis.
Robert Amussen is a writer and editor living on Vancouver Island.
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MLA: Amussen, Robert. Shrink-wrapped. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #184 (Spring 2005), (Grace, Dolbec, Kirk, Dawson, Appleford). (pg. 142 - 143)
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