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The Uninvited Guest

by John Degen

When his old pal Stan dies, Tony inherits his summer job of escorting hockey’s greatest trophy on its worldwide engagements, never letting the Stanley Cup out of his sight. One such assignment takes him to Romania, where the friends and family of the country’s only hockey superstar teach him about backgammon, plum liquor, and the horrors of life under Ceausescu.

This mix of comic premises and tragic historical events makes The Uninvited Guest difficult to categorize, but the two tones are so well blended that it’s equally difficult to dislike. Perhaps because he’s already authored two books of strongly narrative poetry, John Degen swerves clear of many pitfalls common to first-time novelists. Neither melodramatic nor even remotely clichéd, the plotlines in The Uninvited Guest lead their likeable protagonists to emotionally satisfying resolutions.

But the novel is not without flaws. The first half, occupied mostly with Stan, seems almost irrelevant by the end of the novel, as though two separate stories had been fused together with only the Stanley Cup to connect them. Indeed, the novel’s awkward pacing often detracts from what is often, line by line, excellent writing. Degen has a knack for making the bizarre feel authentic, so that Stan and Tony’s desperate frettings over the endangered Cup never teeter into the cartoonish bathos one might expect. Understanding that plot emerges from character, Degen takes pains to create people idiosyncratic enough to justify the narrative’s wild careenings.

Given this evident attention to craft, it’s a shame then that The Uninvited Guest winds up feeling so random at times. The crucial relationship between Tony and a Romanian woman named Diana ends up underdeveloped, while the story of the hockey star’s parents and their immigration to Canada takes up far too much space given their minor-character status. Cramming two or three novels’ worth of material into one, Degen ends up with a sequence of loosely connected scenes, rather than the unified whole he seems to have been striving for.


Reviewer: John Degen

Publisher: Nightwood Editions


Price: $20.95

Page Count: 240 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88971-216-6

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 2006-5

Categories: Fiction: Novels