by Loren Edizel
Toronto, ON: TSAR, 2011
189 pp. $20:95
Coincidences abound in Loren Edizel’s Adrift, a novel ostensibly about an old brown suitcase. The suitcase accompanies John on his journey of escape to the city of Montreal. From what, or from whom, he escapes is unclear. The few objects in his possession – a small jade statue of Buddha, a single, woman’s slipper – reveal little about his identity: who is he, and what are the circumstances from which he arrived in a foreign city anxious to begin life anew?
The novel divulges only bits and pieces of information about its central character. Instead of treating him as a mystery to be solved, it places John at the centre of a web of human interconnections. Despite expanses of time and space, lives intersect in various ways—sometimes banal, sometimes extraordinary. Everyone has some relationship to everyone else, from John’s beautiful neighbour who lives across the street, to a lost-love who divides her time between Sweden and Greece, to an old man who dies angry and alone in the hospital where John works as a nurse. At times, the ties that bind characters to one another strain the limits of credulity. Bags left behind on busses, photographs stowed away by small children, and chance encounters in unlikely settings throw people together in ways that belie the alienations of urban modernity.
Such coincidences characterise life in Edizel’s imagined Montreal. Here, objects, instead of being valued for their utility, accrue status as synecdoches of places, times, and people. Near the end of the novel, John says to his co-worker: “you may look at an object as a thing that serves a generic purpose, yet it can also be the mute depository of life events, emotions, dreams, moments . . .” (160). Continuing his thought, he asks her to imagine “a Museum of Random Objects, where you would see Dr. Weinberg’s beloved bed, and the reading glasses of Anne from Prince Edward Island, the photo of Mary’s cousin, John’s toaster, someone’s fireplace, a piece of wall, you know, totally random objects” (160). The city, like a cabinet of curiosities, is a place of strange juxtapositions; disparate objects combine to illuminate truths about existence that elude habitual ways of looking and thinking. Adrift foregrounds the reality of interconnection that lies behind the experience of disconnect and isolation. The novel puts seemingly unrelated incidents and individuals into collision with one another to meditate on life in the contemporary metropolis.
If the proliferation of coincidences disqualifies Adrift from being read as a realist text, it encourages the reader to approach it as a Surrealist take on modern existence. Like a Murakami novel, Adrift mixes the spectacular with the mundane to highlight the wondrous qualities of ordinary reality. To balk at the improbability – even the impossibility – of certain coincidences is to misinterpret the rules by which the novel is playing. During one of his night shifts, John pens what he thinks of as an imaginative life story of Romeo Fournier, an old, dying man who reveals almost nothing of himself to John or anyone else. Later, details emerge that corroborate the accuracy of John’s fictional treatment. He remarks: “I thought I made it up . . . but it’s real” (43). Along with the unwitting biographer, the reader struggles to believe that such a thing could occur. The story, as if by magic, conjures a memorable and remembered life where only a black hole had existed previously. No plausible explanation exists: the coincidence confounds conventional logic, forcing the reader to accept that life is comprised of explicable and inexplicable moments alike.
Just as the novel rejects any sharp distinction between the ordinary and the marvellous, so does it posit waking and dreaming life as coincidental realities. Characters routinely slip in and out of reveries. Mrs. Liu, whose life intersects with that of John in multiple ways, moves back and forth between waking and dreaming reality while convalescing in the hospital (152). Thomas, the estranged husband of John’s former girlfriend and energetic suitor of his current neighbour, loses himself in daydreams while driving his children to school (166). John has a recurrent dream, in which he is set adrift in the middle of a vast body of water. Helpless, the waves determine the direction of his life. In Adrift, dreams do not merely have revelatory qualities, highlighting the sublimated desires and anxieties of the dreamer. Instead, they comprise part of the lived experience of each individual. The dream is as much a part of characters’ lives as the moments of wakefulness that they take to be reality. Dreams have their own function and truth; they accompany Edizel’s characters as they navigate a multitude of mental, physical, and emotional landscapes.
Edizel guides the reader through these landscapes with rich, lyrical prose and deft storytelling. While plot drives the narrative forward, the author’s reflections on her characters’ existential conditions make the novel fully rewarding and memorable long after the experience of reading. Adrift pushes at the limits of possibility by asking the reader to accept the impossible. It highlights relationships between characters precisely when characters seem most disconnected. The novel fails all tests of believability. In so doing, it reveals a reality of a higher order, a plane of existence upon which all of us are connected, however alienated our experience of the world might be.