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Nowhere Fast

by Yashin Blake

Toronto writer Yashin Blake gives us 18 stories for the initiated, populated with edgy urbanites dispensing wry witticisms as they hold forth on such little-known cultural phenomena as McCoy Tyner, Slayer, and the Project for the New American Century. The core stories aren’t completely lost amidst all this hipness, but they are often difficult to nail down.

But maybe that’s part of the point. Blake’s obsession with immediate cultural context, though it often works to clutter his narratives with a sort of billboard detritus, does inject them with the urgency of Right Now, a sense of the zeitgeist that historical fiction rarely achieves. Blake’s characters inhabit a vulgar world of loud music and loves destroyed by drinking, where Johnny Hotrod beats Satan to a pulp in the laundromat and people recognize Jesus by his “hippie beard.”

But there’s more to Nowhere Fast than the degeneracy suggested by the clichéd title. Because for all their 21st-century glibness, the stories are often taut renderings of the lines of communication – strained, twisted, or snapped. In the scenes where four or five characters all hash it out, Blake’s ear for sharp, quippy dialogue comes crackling to the fore. The title story begins as Lois walks in on Gene masturbating to Newsweek photos of war hero Jessica Lynch, and over the next 20 pages the tension churns, with Lois’s parents, sister, and sister’s boyfriend all twining a precarious domestic web around them. The story loosely weaves current events and more delicate emotional strands into a nicely off-kilter tableau of a family troubled by resentment and illness in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.

Unfortunately, few of these stories are this successful. Many are little more than amusing anecdotes. Characters’ voices are too often interchangeable, their depths as people sacrificed to maintain the prevailing dynamic Blake’s frenetic little postmodernities seem to require. This is a quick read, and like the world it envisions, its edges are often blurred by the velocity and apparent randomness of it all, leaving one disoriented and strangely dissatisfied.