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Media Therapy

by Larry Gaudet

We reviewers regularly exceed our word counts by begging Canadian fiction writers to up the literary ante. Enough already with the rural incest weepers, the featherweight urban satires, the well-worn immigration stories, we rail. Where are you, oh Borges of Bonavista, Nabokov of Napanee? Lay down that semi-autobiographical psychological realism and expand our national literary imagination, why don’t you!

Well, that was me before Media Therapy, a novel so laden with vision and ideas and cultural insights and narrative experiment that I fell to the floor and cried for mama. Media Therapy may well be brilliant in some regards, but it defeated this reader.

Author Larry Gaudet’s near-future dystopia is one of countries managed by transnational corporations, and consumers managed by digital media. Every element of individual identity – each childhood trauma, each sexual proclivity – has been mapped into a vast communications network, so that boundaries between media and self have collapsed. Angst is treated using media therapy, a dubious psychoanalytic practice that smooths out the bumps in one’s personal narrative.

Our guide to this online nightmare is Nick Arvista, who describes himself as a former corporate propagandist – a radical version of our own era’s public relations hack. Nick presents the life and death of Paul Devorer, a ruthless executive turned “convergence prophet,” whose memoir he has ghostwritten.

It’s a solid satirical concept, and Gaudet mines it thoroughly – sometimes to excess. While Media Therapy features confident and original writing, the majority of the story is told in invented corporate jargon and therapy-speak. The lingo is convincing and appropriate, but it gives the novel a hermetic and abstracted texture. Combined with Gaudet’s oblique characterizations, cultural theorizing, and narrative subversions, the book becomes mind-melting chaos. Which may well be Gaudet’s intention, for all I could make of it.