Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Silent Cruise

by Timothy Taylor

The tale of Timothy Taylor should by now be part of the folklore of contemporary Canadian writing. Under a blind jury, he took three of 12 possible positions in the 2000 Journey Prize Anthology of new short fiction, including the top spot. No small feat. Reading those stories now, and the six others gathered in his first collection, Silent Cruise, one understands why that jury pitted Taylor against himself.

There can be little doubt that Taylor is one of Canada’s best short-story writers. Any possible criticisms feel like quibbles. His dialogue is occasionally turgid. He is overly fond of the first-person singular voice. There are rare obtuse passages weighed down by a story’s themes.

This is all nothing compared to his overarching skill.

Objects are key here, especially in the early stories. A collection of butterflies, an antique watch, a mountain of radiators, a rare cheese – such material things are described by Taylor with seeming clairvoyant facility. But these objects are also psychological bait, enticing the reader deeper. By the middle of the collection, objects give way to ideas as Taylor turns his gaze inward to his characters’ minds. The butterflies of an earlier story seem to reappear in a later story, transformed into numbers floating in the head of a savant-genius mathematician; the radiator mountain similarly evolves into a mammoth conceptual-art masterpiece, spread across the hills of Rome by a brilliant, reclusive artist. Taylor’s writing shines outward and inward with reciprocal intensity.

This ability both forms and informs the stories themselves, making each an integrally crafted object, representing prodigious, intangible calculations. At his best – in the Journey winner “Doves of Townsend,” about a woman struggling with the legacy of her father’s suicide; and in the ecstatic and horrifying title story, in which a crooked stockbroker and the genius mathematician play the horses; and in the dazzling novella-length “NEWSTART 2.0™,” a chronicle of two lost artists – Taylor rises to the challenge Northrop Frye set for the poet: he shows us the world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.