Mark McDonald
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002

A man, "J." is discovered, dead, naked, sprawled amid the sparse furnishings of his large anonymous flat in one of the high rise buildings of the West End, Vancouver's gay neighborhood. A casual acquaintance is pressed into service to dispose of the body, take charge of the dead man's effects. The two men, dead and alive, didn't know each other well in life, but after hauling away the papers, cremating "J's" body, the living man, who narrates most of this novel, finds himself strangely possessed first by the dead man's anonymity, then by the nutty imaginings he himself imagines the dead man shared. Apocalypse ensues, a phantasmal destruction mirrored by the collapse of the narrative. Readers will find themselves wondering what is true, what is fictionally "true," what to do with all this detail.
is illustrated with precise architectural drawings which will remind San Francisco art lovers of our own team of Castaneda & Reiman, and with black and white photos by the author himself, studies of sinister corners and pediments that make Vancouver look endlessly, chillingly modernist. What I like about Mark McDonald is the casual ease with which his simple, if Kafkaesque parable becomes an obsessive elaboration on the architectural themes of Hitchcock's Universal period of the mid 1950s, the estrangements of 'Vertigo' and 'Rear Window' enjambed. The story, told so elliptically, makes you double back and back again, afraid you might have missed some detail that might have explained why the narrator is so jumpy and weird. Maybe what's between the lines, that white space equivalent of a space in the social contract, threatens the reader-writer bargain more than any words or images could do. Did you ever start comparing the lines at the very top edge of a novel's page to the rarefied heights of a penthouse, and the lowest lines, down by your thumbs, might be like the lobby of that same, spooky, over-tall building? I never did either till I started reading Flat!

--- Kevin Killian