Compensation

Canadian Book Review Annual, July 2009

Richard Parks, 52, lies in bed, feeling beset, and announces his "testament." By the end he is calling it his "confession into the void." The first-person narrative centres on his lifetime of painful idleness, born of "an unkillable desire for action" matched to a conviction that there is "nothing on this earth worth doing." A Hamlet theme is deftly woven into the story. Parks appropriately produces a text of about 35,000 words, roughly half the usual length of a novel (which the book's jacket proclaims this to be).

A series of episodes details the anti-hero's progress toward stasis. The first inspiration for Parks is the privilege enjoyed by a classmate suffering from leukemia. His attempts at imitative malingering get stymied by his policeman father. The sudden and wished-for death of his father provides an occasion for capitalizing on feigned reaction. In his mid-teens. Parks unearths a useful set of vague medical symptoms and uses them to take over his mother's daily life. Pedestrian efforts during 10 years in "academic sanctuary" enable Parks to acquire three useless degrees. His mother's growing involvement with his uncle sparks a psychotic event that leads to extended institutionalization. Once back home, he finds a strange soulmate in an orphan brought over from Africa. Parks's eventual, inevitable encounter with the world of work exposes him to the possibilities of "The Comp," and he engineers a major accident. The remainder of the story involves prospecting for an inheritance from his aged Jewish grandmother, an abortive alliance with a junior con artist, and a crafty marriage to a fat, rich nurse.

The fussy, turgid voice of Richard Parks mostly works. Sometimes it slips into the precious literosity of creative writing. A few times the language seems odd, as when a car door "booms" shut, or tar paper "billows." The story is well-proportioned, uneven in interest, and a little slow to start. The high points — a handful of zany moments that bring loud laughs — constitute the worthiest legacy of slacker Richard Parks. — Joseph Jones