You Comma Idiot

By Doug Harris

Given that it takes the form of a narrative unconventionally told in the second person, the title of this good-natured debut novel by film producer Doug Harris need not be taken as directed at the reader. Instead, the “idiot” is likely meant to refer to the slacker hero, 28-year-old Lee Goodstone.

Despite the quirky presentation, which is fluently handled and becomes scarcely noticeable after a few pages, Lee is a very familiar character. The star of what is sometimes called LoserLit, he is a scrawny, sensitive, self-deprecating, going-nowhere kind of guy, living in a spectacular loft apartment he admits is a cliché while making a comfortable living selling (mostly soft) drugs. Other elements common to the genre include the gang of friends that have hung together since childhood (cases of arrested development unable to grow up and get a life), and the unprepossessing Lee’s baffling ability to get gorgeous, intelligent women to go to bed with him.

Various unrelated things happen. One of Lee’s friends is accused of murder. Another’s girlfriend takes up with Lee. His drug business, which he is apathetic about anyway, starts to go down the tube. All of these are just pegs on which to hang a tapestry of observational humour as Lee casts a cold eye on the Montreal scene.

Genuinely funny at times, and always easy to like, You Comma Idiot has definite generic limitations. The characters rarely rise above being types, with the one exception being Lee’s eccentric Dealer, a wonderful comic creation. Some parts, like the satire of the news media, don’t come off at all. The tone frequently turns overly sentimental, and the subplots are resolved in a perfunctory and uninteresting way. But at this best Harris gives plenty of evidence that he is a good writer capable of doing more in the future with less formulaic material.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, September 2010.

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