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Myself Through Others

by David Watmough

This memoir by  David Watmough, the Vancouver writer best known for 10 novels featuring his fictional alter ego Davey Bryant, is a strange affair. It presents itself, with only intermittent success, as a series of reminiscences of more than 40 people he has known (a) quite well, (b) slightly, or (c) barely at all. Examples from the last category include Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he once chatted for a few moments on a park bench, and Pierre Trudeau, whom he saw in a Montreal restaurant one time.
    Most of Watmough’s subjects either had minor places in the Roman Catholic church in Watmough’s native Britain or are British, Canadian, or American literary figures. All of them are dead. For the poets, fiction writers, and playwrights, especially, this is doubtless just as well, considering how, with the exception of Wallace Stegner and a few others, the author trivializes and denigrates them, forgoing ideas in favour of gossip. What do readers learn, for example, when told that W.H. Auden “was the possessor of a truly tiny, uncircumcised penis” whereas “his Jewish lover, Chester, had a large and cut member”?
    Fans of Watmough the novelist may find Watmough the memoirist a less polished prose-maker. Of an old schoolfellow, he writes: “Poor Charley! He became deceased long before me.” Two sentences later Watmough switches to a faux-Victorian rhythm: “Not having anything tangible of him and our friendship of nigh forty years, these memories I have set down become that cherished link that will be unbroken in the time I have left, sadly bereft of the benison of seeing him again.”