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Salvage King, Ya! (a Herky Jerky Picaresque)

by Mark Anthony Jarman

Mark Anthony Jarman’s first novel, Salvage King, Ya!, is subtitled “A Herky Jerky Picaresque.” And herky jerky it is. The story is delivered through a series of brief elliptical paragraphs that hang together in numbered chapters, but the work has little of what one would otherwise recognize as a plot or other such accessories as crisis, climax, and resolution. Nevertheless, such brave abandonment of conventional expectations of the novelistic form provide for some surprising rewards among the perhaps more predictable frustrations.

Drinkwater is a veteran hockey goon literally on his last legs: his knees are shot, he’s stuck playing for a series of lousy teams in the minors, and the booze is getting the better of him. Still, his journeyman’s appetite for the ladies has yet to diminish, and he spends most of his off-ice time pursuing a young woman of indeterminate eye colour (known only as Waitress X) while brooding over whether his true future lies in marriage to his stay-at-home girlfriend (known only as the Intended). He’s on the road a lot during the season and hangs around with some hard-living pals and his ex-wife in southern Alberta during the off-season. Little else that counts as narrative event takes place. But Jarman writes with such energy and courage we hardly notice for the first 150 pages. The physical aspects of Drinkwater’s situations are vividly evoked: the sex actually manages to be sexy, the bruised ribs really hurt, and the hockey games themselves are all wonderfully funny and violent.

Special commendations must be granted here to Salvage King, Ya!’s contribution to awakening Hockey Lit from its currently moribund state. Other writers too often treat our national sport as nothing more than a benign glide over a frozen pond, but Jarman manages to brilliantly capture the flatulent bus rides, busted knuckles, and occasional accidents of grace in front of the net with language utterly free of the usual sentimental observations on “the game.”

But for all these particular strengths, Salvage King, Ya! falls short of being a fully satisfying novel in that it fails to move Drinkwater’s life toward a narrative closure that provides some kind of deeper nourishment. Wondering whether an aging goon will get married or continue his affair with a young waitress is not enough to sustain the novel’s herky-jerky 284 pages.