by E. J. Lavoie
William Bloom said that to his father in Daniel Wallace’s novel, Big Fish. Hard as William tries, even on his father’s deathbed, he can’t cut through his father’s tall tales and jokes to reach the real man inside. I feel the same way about E. J. Lavoie. You see, The Gardens of Goshen is Lavoie’s collection of writing, essays and short stories, printed regularly in a weekly publication over the course of a year. Everything links back to a mythical land in Northwestern Ontario (Goshen) in some way, and I don’t know how I really feel about that.
My favourite moments in The Gardens of Goshen are probably the least creative, when the author – or, possibly, his alter-ego with the same initials – spouts off his opinion on then-current events. I feel like this format could have worked as well, if not better, without the whole Goshen conceit, for it makes it harder for the book be taken seriously and the truth seem less factual. As such, realism is never fully present with the important topics that Lavoie obviously cares deeply for, and it’s a crying shame.
But let’s not get carried away; Lavoie has tons of fun with his Goshen, and it really shows. He seems to base many Goshen-related “facts” loosely off the Greenstone region, but blows them well out of proportion for narrative purposes. Sitting beside what I can assume is more-or-less factual from outside the region, Lavoie shows both how silly things are and how things ought to be. The end result is equal parts boyish charm, snarky sarcasm, and extreme seriousness.
So, I suppose the true task at hand is formulating an opinion from these polar opposite feelings, and, hence, my sympathy toward William Bloom. I suppose that, despite my yearning for a straight man-to-man, Lavoie convinced me that his story is worth a listen, and I think we can call that a recommendation.