by Doug Diaczuk

Chalk CoverI honestly can’t get a lot of writing done in three days. (It probably took me about that long to write this review.) And here comes Diaczuk, the show-off. Not only did he write a book over that period, not only did that story win the 38th 3-Day Novel Contest, but that book was better than most books that people spend a heck of a lot longer writing. (In case it wasn’t clear by this point, that novel was Chalk.)

Chalk is a story about an unnamed narrator––think Holden Caulfield, if he was a bigger dick. Unsatisfied with his life and likely suffering from subclinical depression, a family tragedy drives him home. The story proper begins on the bus trip back to the big city where he lives and works. On the way, he meets L, a mysterious runaway, who joins him on an unintentional quest for meaning.

Diaczuk’s prose is sparse, which does a lot to build the atmosphere of Chalk and give his narrator a very clear and interesting voice. And I really liked the narrator. He’s most definitely childish and petty, but I never began to hate him for it. In this way, the author shows that you don’t have to make someone a good person to be likeable, so long as he has some redeeming features the reader can grab onto, likely the biting wit and believability in this instance. But, far and beyond, my favourite aspect of the book is the dark humour, with layers of jokes building off of each other as we move forward, references to previous jokes resurfacing unexpectedly and effectively throughout.

One detail about Chalk that held my attention, or at least didn’t escape my notice, was the distinct division into three parts, where the tone and the focus of the story changes significantly. Whether this was intentional on the part of the author or if it was just a matter of it taking a different direction on each day of writing I couldn’t say, but it lends itself to the story’s success in a way that I can at least partially hit on. Not even getting into the numerous references to chalk in the text itself, it’s amazing how much the structure resembles the properties of a chalk drawing. The narrator feels largely ignored to begin with, but it’s not until meeting L that he becomes visible. In their gallivanting in the middle, it’s as though he’s starting to become a vibrant and well-defined picture, but it starts to smudge and fade away as we move into the third part, when our narrator’s life and mental wellbeing circle the drain.

The only criticism I really have to garner with Diaczuk’s story is that he wasn’t able to capture the feel of travelling great distances, which somewhat hurts the pace and atmosphere of the middle, but not greatly. This was probably the only thing that made Chalk feel like it was written over the course of just a few days, and that’s actually quite impressive.