The Walrus Interviews for The Man Game

Thanks to Jared Bland at The Walrus Magazine for the interview. Here it is:


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This week, Lee Henderson’s first novel, The Man Game, was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust fiction prize, and deservedly so. It is a sprawling, brilliant, playful, heartbreaking, and eminently wise book that considers its world with unusual bravery and purpose. It’s easily one of the very best books I’ve read this year. I caught up with Lee Henderson last month, while he was in Toronto for the launch.

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This is your first novel, but unlike many first books it’s not obviously autobiographical. How did your ideas come together?

I think it still is autobiographical, but more symbolic autobiography. I’ve always been doing drawings, and I always thought it was somehow irreverent to draw naked men, and I’d be in writing classes and you’re supposed to write critiques on people’s stories or poems, and I’d just be drawing little naked men for them. It seemed counterintuitive at the time, so I’m always looking for how to draw stories out of very small obsessions like that. I knew that if it was going to take nine years, at least I’d be entertained while I worked on it. And I just tried to take this idea of the man game and basically use it to craft a book that could talk about the historical novel as a genre within literature, as well as something much more contemporary, integrating and absorbing the information and narrative structures of video games, for instance. I was thinking of this idea of combat or competition as a structural cog to keep the book going. And I was also frustrated by some of the CanLit books—the historical novels—which I felt were too committed to a fidelity of the time, trying to match the era word for word. It’s kind of a parlour trick. Not that I don’t love a lot of the straight historical fiction that’s done, but that’s why I wanted to write a historical novel: it’s a Canadian form in a lot of ways.

It’s the Canadian form. What Canadian books were important to you in this? I kept thinking of Tay John. Read the rest of this entry »

Philip Marchand’s National Post Column on The Man Game

Thanks to Philip Marchand for taking the time to look at The Man Game in his new regular column for the National Post.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Only the land is real in ‘phantom fiction’

Verbal excess adds life to tale of Vancouver

Philip Marchand, Weekend Post Published: Saturday, October 04, 2008

 

Great swatches of Canadian literature are occupied by a collective phenomenon I call phantom characters.

These are fictional human beings who don’t really emerge from the narrative, or assume rounded dimensions. They’re like individual blanks accompanied by a set of instructions from the author to the reader, on what to make of them. These semi-human personalities often have a mysteriously soulful presence and display extreme, but somehow poetically appropriate, behaviour.

Jane Urquhart and Michael Ondaatje love this sort of character, and now Vancouverbased author Lee Henderson, in his debut novel, The Man Game (Viking Canada, $32), joins their company. Numberone phantom character in the novel, set mostly in 1886 Vancouver, but intertwined with a narrative of the present-day city, is 17-year-old Molly Erwagen, married to Sammy Erwagen, quadriplegic bookkeeper to a Vancouver sawmill manager. Her green eyes, “flecked by a saffron cascade of fallen flames,” and her “moonlit” beauty have a preternatural effect on men, who view her as a “goddess.” One besotted male claims, “She’s how we know God exists.” Another man, in her presence, feels like “a peer to God.”

Why exactly they feel this way we don’t know. It must have something to do with that saffron cascade. This arbitrariness becomes a problem in the works of Urquhart and Ondaatje because sooner or later their phantom characters find themselves in a conventional narrative, but at least The Man Game, from start to finish, is an assay into the “unknown weird,” as one character puts it. Anything goes. Case in point is the “man game” of the novel’s title, an invention of Molly’s. The game is a rarefied form of pro-wrestling between two naked men — the nudity keeps the game “honest” — a combination of martial arts, dancing and acrobatics. Read the rest of this entry »

Writers’ Trust Nominates The Man Game

holy moly The Man Game has been nominated for the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize.