In his sixth novel, Montreal writer and translator David Homel delves into the relationship between fathers and sons. Ben Allen is at the midway point between his 80-year-old father, Morris, and his teenage son, Tony. Morris is a foul-mouthed joker, and Tony is a rather sweet slacker who spends enormous amounts of time in front of the television. Following the death of his wife, Morris has moved to Montreal to be near his son.
A professional drama plays out against the familial one. Ben has written a prize-winning essay on 19th-century dromomania. (Also known as travelling fugue, this psychological disorder involves the uncontrollable impulse to wander.) The prize has brought Ben both congratulations and a certain amount of competitive derision from his colleagues at the college where he teaches. Anyone who has ever been to an academic party will cringe at the accuracy with which Homel presents the “anti–St. Patrick’s Day party” Ben attends. The mixture of fawning and vicious sniping is spot on.
Homel writes with remarkable grace about the simplest aspects of life, and the most complicated. He also uses his third-person narrator to comment on the act of writing itself: “Every piece of writing is an ungrateful monster. Instead of being happy just to exist, it demands more and more of the creator’s being. Never write anything if you can help it.” Fortunately, Homel does not follow his narrator’s advice. Midway is a perceptive and thought-provoking exploration into the life of its protagonist.