Quill & Quire Review: November's Radio

November’s Radio begins in the aftermath of a breakup. Wendy has gone to China, leaving her partner, Gary, in Victoria. Their separation established, the novel then proceeds to run on dual tracks, alternating between storylines that remain distinct.

Such an approach raises basic technical difficulties, chief among them how the two narratives connect. More problematic is that the two protagonists aren’t even in contact with one another throughout most of the novel, and their adventures seem totally unrelated. Wendy is involved in the creation of a next-generation form of holographic performance art with an odd Chinese couple, one of whom, Chen, is the son of one of China’s shady new plutocrats. Meanwhile, Gary works in B.C.’s Ministry of Wellness as a cubicle drone, doing research into pharmaceuticals.

What’s the connection? There is a bit of plot crossover at the very end, but until that point it’s hard work finding common ground. The reader may note, for example, that Gary and Wendy both run afoul of government corruption, with Chen undergoing a party trial and Gary pressured to provide support for a happy pill that has potentially dangerous side effects and little proven effectiveness.

More substantial is a thematic connection in the way both stories emphasize failures of language. The B.C. ministry buzzes with acronyms, doubletalk, bureaucratese, and therapy-speak. Reports are written but need interpretation. When something important needs to be communicated, it’s done in code.

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