By: Mark Sedore
3 Day Books, August 2010, 167 pp, Paperback $14.95
Reviewed by: James Onusko
This is an updated version of an earlier review that first appeared in the Trent Arthur.
Mark Sedore has managed to do what very few writers could ever hope or even try to accomplish. He has written, over the Labour Day Weekend of 2009, a poignant and succinct tale of journeys – both physical and metaphorical – and manages to lead readers on a path that will lead to reflection, surprise, and admiration.
The 3 Day Novel contest has existed for over thirty years and involves writers from around the world. Over the September long weekend, contestants labour to craft a novel on any topic of their choice. In a contest fuelled by literary instincts and pure adrenaline, writers are permitted to craft a brief outline from which to frame their efforts, and then embark on a quest to win a contest that sees the publication of the contest’s finest effort. The announcement of the winner from the most recent event in 2011 will be coming in the next few weeks. As the contest grows in popularity, the selection process becomes longer as well. The event has launched the careers of many authors and oftentimes, it forces aspiring writers to sit down and write that novel-length work that has eluded them beforehand. Snowmen’s author, Mark Sedore, is a graduate student in Communication and Culture at York University and Ryerson University. He is also the communications officer for the President’s office at the University of Toronto.
In its essence, Snowmen is about adult brothers who truly do not get along. The younger brother is very rich, but socially inept for various reasons, the main one being Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). The older brother is a fledgling music therapist. The younger brother discovers that he has cancer for the third time, brain cancer in this instance, and decides to honour the brothers’ dead father by walking across the Arctic Circle from Canada to their father’s homeland, Russia. The older brother, once the younger brother’s plans fall through to embark on the trek due to the cancer, takes up the cause that has initially had a commitment of $200 billion from corporations. The final pledged amount is roughly one tenth of this amount (due to Larry’s non-participation). Nonetheless, it is a huge amount for cancer research. Alternating chapters move seamlessly from the Arctic trek to flashbacks that centre on Toronto and the turbulent relationship between Charles and Lawrence. Charles’s relationship with his girlfriend Sandy is a prominent part of the flashbacks and drives a lot of the overarching narrative. In this excerpt, Charles describes his blossoming relationship with Sandy:
As far as the word meant anything, I thought she was perfect. Not like an equation is perfect, not like a logic problem has a perfect answer. Just that she was a perfect fit for me. Or, maybe, we for each other. And it wasn’t that she finished my sentences for me or that we had the same taste in music or anything quite so superficial as that. It was that there were parts of me that were missing and parts of her that were missing and that we each had each other’s parts. Like, Sandra had the head of a snowman, and I had the base, but we each only had half of the middle ball. I felt confident that we would have a lot of time together, that there was no rush to figure everything out at once, no rush to put all the pieces together. Which was good, because half an abdomen isn’t enough.
While there is much more to like about this very good novel than dislike, there are some weaknesses. Beyond Larry and Charles, none of the characters, including Sandy, are well developed. Another area of weakness, without question, is that the writing is uneven. I should note that this is not chronic and marks only small portions of the book. I think that it might be unfair to criticize Sedore alone for this, possibly the editor should share some of this not being caught during the editing process. Granted, Sedore had only 72 hours to write this book, however, the editor had months to help the author ready it for publication. Related to the unevenness of the writing, is the dialogue, and in particular, the exchanges between Charles and Larry. Sedore does not seem to have captured the cadence and rhythms of conversation yet, and yes, I understand that Larry’s language is profoundly affected by his AS, however, the stilted dialogue is not exclusive to Larry. In many ways, writing great dialogue is one of the chief challenges for young writers. It requires an exceptional ear and the ability to become, every so briefly, the character as he/she/ze. I am confident that this will improve over time for Sedore as his writing skills are many.
None of this should dissuade you from reading this slim novel. It flows well from start to finish, and it is well worth the two or three hours it will take for most people to read it. It is filled with humour, compassion, popular culture references, and pointed criticism of the excesses of contemporary North American society. The Jeopardy! references are a great touch and will be appreciated by all fans of the show. What Mark Sedore has created in 72 hours is inspiring, and many authors would be hard pressed to produce as fine a book over a three month period, let alone three days. If you find yourself with a few spare hours in the coming weeks, read Snowmen, it is well worth the time.