By Douglas Glover
One hopes that all of the familiar reasons why more people don’t recognize Douglas Glover as being one of Canada’s best writers — chief among them being that he mainly writes experimental, short fiction published by small presses — won’t continue to dog his latest collection. Savage Love is an accomplished, funny, and inventive book that readers should rejoice in.
The theme, announced in the title, is indeed a savage, perverse kind of desire — reminiscent, at times, of the stories in Barbara Gowdy’s We So Seldom Look On Love. One of Glover’s narrators describes a particularly torrid affair as being such a compulsive if not violent “wallow of resentment, hatred, lust, rage and envy . . . that to this day I think all of those emotions are love.” In another story we hear of the terror and “inhuman endlessness of desire, our inability to contain it, the dark tide on which we ride unwitting and unprepared.” Love as we find it here is ruinous, bestial, and passionate, with the full sense of “passion” involving not just emotional peaks but spiritual suffering.
The emphasis on rutting and physical expressions of love (violence, dominance, agony and ecstasy) nicely complements Glover’s display of technical proficiency and formal experimentation, giving the stories a characteristically intellectual earthiness. A favourite word is “ineffable,” but his writing embodies a different spirit: full of cerebral grip and grit. He’s a smart writer of precisely measured effects, but he never seems like he’s showing off.
He’s also a master of shifting between different moods and modes (he calls some of the stories here “fugues”), and the collection moves fluidly from a brilliant parody of Cormac McCarthy’s demonic early style in the opening story “Tristiana” (a parody that shows how gentle a nudge is required to tip some texts into the absurd) and the psychosexual terror of “Crown of Thorns,” to the spare microfictions of the book’s Intermezzo section and the bawdy humour of the concluding Comedies. Through it all, the timing (so essential to comic writing), calibration of point of view, and diversity of language is near perfect. Only one story, “A Flame, a Burst of Light,” seems out of place, but it’s still a good read. Overall, Savage Love deserves to be recognized as one of the best Canadian books published this year.
Review first published in Quill & Quire, October 2013.