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Hunting with Diana

by David Watmough

David Watmough’s latest novel, Hunting With Diana, is a series of “connected fictions” inspired by the author’s obsessive reading of Greek myths. Hoping to “reincarnate these ancient treasures into the ultimate of contemporary literary fabrics,” Watmough clothes his tales in the Internet.

The pattern in most of the stories doesn’t stray too much from a fairly rigid mould. The narrator, Davey Bryant (star of many another Watmough novel), endowed with self-described reservoirs of listening patience (“I don’t know where I found the willpower, but I still refused to interrupt him”) is up late surfing the Net while his lover Ken is asleep in the next room. Using his Internet intuition, Davey quickly manages to eliminate any electronic inhibitions his cyberspace acquaintance may harbour and before you can say “Hard Copy meets A Current Affair” we’re mired in a first-person confession that is often as bizarre as it is melodramatic: a man explains his culpability in the drowning death of his friend; a mental patient commandeers the hospital’s computer to tell Davey about his erections; a man accused of pedophilia considers suicide; a young girl tells about her father’s discovery of an incestuous relationship she’s having with her brother and the father’s threat to kill her as a result (the implausible postscript to the story: Davey inadvertently learns about the girl’s demise when a friend from Berkeley sends him a newspaper clipping that happens to contain the account). And then there is yet another story about incest that includes a eunuch father and bad relationships with the in-laws.

In spite of the broad subject matter and the diverse cast of characters inhabiting Hunting With Diana, their voices sound remarkably similar. Once you get beyond the aw-shucks inflections of cowboy Poz in “Down on the Ranch” or Zed’s youthful patois in “The Beautiful Barman of Banff,” not much differentiates these voices from that of the narrator.

Then there’s the problem of the Internet. Because the medium is once removed from reality (thus the term “virtual reality”) and on-liners assume identities that may or may not be true, the writer needs to work that much harder to sustain credibility and create an engaging world. But by simply presenting unfiltered “real-time” accounts, Watmough’s format doesn’t leave much room for inventiveness. The result: predictable and lifeless prose. This, coupled with the Herculean task the author has set for himself of updating the Greek myths, turns Hunting With Diana into an overly contrived online session that just doesn’t work.