Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Love and the Mess We’re In

by Stephen Marche

Toronto author Stephen Marche’s yen for formal experimentation and elaborate wordplay are on florid display in his new novel. Behind the book’s typographical flourishes lies a compact consideration of love lost and found that might have been better suited to a short story.

Textual layout is the primary focus of Marche’s rebellious attention here. A description of an apartment is designed to resemble an architect’s drawing, boxes of text abutting one another like rooms. One major plot point, involving a character’s relocation to New York City, is conveyed via a full-colour subway map printed separately and inserted into the book. A flurry of haiku superimposes itself upon the borough of Queens; transit stops are renamed for cultural touchstones such as Malcolm X.

Technical brinkmanship aside, the story is simple. Novelist Viv gains success with her debut book. Husband Tim suffers a mental collapse. Viv travels to Buenos Aires for a night of passion with Tim’s best friend, Clive. Things don’t go so well for Tim, but Clive and Viv start a new life in Brooklyn with baby Chloe, spawned during their Argentinean rendezvous.

Love and the Mess We’re In is most engaging in its tense and dramatic first 50 pages, exposing how Clive and Viv’s carnal attraction is heavily inflected by loss, guilt, hope, and shame. Here, the stylistic inventiveness bears fruit: alternating columns of text from each person’s viewpoint contribute to character development. But as things progress, a lack of authorial restraint hampers the reading experience.

The paramours’ dinner conversations and internal monologues are interesting, but devoting 70 pages to a single meal wears thin. An endless sex scene devolves into an orgy of straining adverbs and adjectives. And the Brooklyn chapter’s inclusion of infant Chloe’s baby talk is a contrivance the reader should have been spared.

This book’s structural derring-do is not unprecedented. The subway map riffs on artist Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear, which similarly revisits the iconic map of the London Underground. All in all, Love and the Mess We’re In is not a difficult read, but the book’s characters and their predicaments would have had greater impact with less adornment.


Reviewer: Shawn Syms

Publisher: Gaspereau Press


Price: $28.95

Page Count: 272 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-55447-107-2

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2013-1

Categories: Fiction: Novels