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When X Equals Marylou

by Tamas Dobozy

The stories in When X Equals Marylou, the second collection from Tamas Dobozy, are the literary equivalent of broken glass in a spoonful of honey. They go down smoothly, with a bit of prickling, then tear the reader apart when they least expect it.

Dobozy is an expansive talent. The stories here range freely across time and space, from the downtown city streets of Vancouver’s Lower Mainland to train cars in Russia to the Library of Alexandria, with stops at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, the interiors of dreams, and the car-deck of a B.C. Ferries boat in between. There is virtually no repetition here; each story demands rapid immersion in a distinct fictional reality and an often uncomfortable exposure to a new set of characters.

Dobozy’s stories are populated largely by the down and out – criminals and addicts, three-time losers, and, well, writers. What they and their stories share, despite differing surface circumstances, is a yearning toward transcendence. While the route may not always be successful, or pleasant, the yearning is always there.

Some of the stories, particularly early in the collection, are little more than scenes or set pieces, good for a moment but failing to linger long in the memory. The longer stories, however, have the earmarks of a fine talent in the making. The title story is a haunting examination of the spiritual need for inventing stories, couched in a narrative of a punk rock band and a stolen notebook.

Some of the subject matter here will be too much for squeamish readers. Those constitutionally able, however, will find in When X Equals Marylou an impressive imagination and writing talent to match.