NIGHTS by David Gilmour
Review by Charlie Dickinson
story builds to a stunner of a climax...'
2002, 217 pp., ISBN: 1-58243-203-1
Hardcover - 224 pages (September 25, 2001)
Random House of Canada; ISBN: 0679311122
When we first meet
Darius Halloway, the first-person narrator of Sparrow Nights, our first
impression is respectability and intellectual prowess. Professor Halloway
teaches French Literature at a Canadian university and we might think
his tenured work life at age 54 an uncomplicated coast to retirement
years. He's over a failed, childless marriage. Now, his contentments
are the arcana of French Symbolists and an occasional restaurant meal,
usually taken alone, of fine food and a robust red wine. The title of
David Gilmour's novel, however, refers to a Russian expression, we learn,
that describes a night of dementia and torment. Professor Halloway's
confession takes us from first impressions downward to somewhere in
How did Halloway find himself, to borrow a phrase from one of his scholarly
subjects, in "une saison en enfer"? It had to do with teacher-student
Some colleges in the U.S. and Canada (Yale and the University of Texas
come to mind) prohibit instructors from having physical relationships
with students. Curbing abuse in trust-based relationships carries over
to doctors (psychiatrists especially), and clergy (notoriety given certain
Zen priests and, yes, celibate priests).
But for other academic venues, apparently all's fair in love.
Several years ago, a thin 29-year-old blonde told me she left home and
went to the University and stayed. One of her professors had abandoned
his family for her. Early in Sparrow Nights, we quickly surmise on Professor
Halloway's campus, teachers being with students is also no taboo. As
Halloway relates, five years earlier, he met, if not the love of his
life, certainly the sex partner of his life. A graduate student, roughly
half his age, Emma. They were together for three years.
Then Emma left.
Halloway knows why Emma left: His lack of compassion finally drove her
away. What he doesn't know is why her departure left him existentially
adrift. In a narrative not without heaps of dramatic irony, Halloway
recounts where his self-obsession took him. At a Caribbean resort, he
tells strangers he needed to get away. Why? they ask. " ... I poisoned
my neighbor's dogs." Dancing with the wife of a man who is drinking
too much on the last day of their vacation, Halloway has a simple request:
Might he put his hand under her arm? "You smell like Emma,"
he tells her. After returning home from the Caribbean holiday, Halloway
becomes a habitue of the Gold Hat Health Club, a massage parlor specializing
in "hand release" services. If the professor's sex life faces
redefinition in the balance of the book, it's not without a concomitant
dissection of his soul.
Sparrow Nights reads like any great page-turner, even though the story's
told by an often repulsive narrator. Why? Darius Halloway's compelling
honesty pulls us along, into his indulgent self-obsession, early dispatching
of dogs new to the neighborhood (and worse), notwithstanding. And the
Janus-faced persona: outward respectability played against inward grief
and despair over Lust's Labor's Lost seems not that foreign, not that
off-putting. That is, Darius Halloway is not quite the madman Patrick
Bateman of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho.
Besides a first-person narrator with a compelling voice, Sparrow Nights
has virtues that signal well-crafted fiction. Fifteen, often short,
chapters are well-paced. The story builds to a stunner of a climax,
unexpected, yet inevitable as snow in late April. Character is revealed
in memorable scene action.
And the dialogue, trim and never talky, has punch.
Another measure of Gilmour's virtuosity is that after the professor
bottoms out in hellacious self-abandon, redemption, of a sort, is earned
in the last paragraph. One scene, Halloway and his late-life daughter.
Nearby, in his peripheral vision, after the long absence, Emma appears.
Then a blink of the eye and Emma's gone. In that instant, his memory
of Emma gives way to the bond with his toddler daughter. The lock of
memory is broken and Darius Halloway is released from "sparrow
© Charlie Dickinson August 2002
Counterpoint Press is an American publisher that is a member of the
Perseus Books Group. They have a website http:// www.counterpointpress.com
& publish a number of notable authors.
*This is our first review by Portland based Charlie and he has promised
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