Patrick Warner's novel ‘Double Talk’ [Breakwater Books] begins at the end. It begins at the end of a marriage and the thing that acts as the catalyst of its final explosive moments is a pair of $350 rattlesnake skin cowboy boots.
Brian ‘Baby’ Power has just made some money for designing a website and he has promised to spend it for his daughter Lucy's school shopping.
However, Brian fails to keep his promise. Instead he goes drinking with his buddy and boozes away his cash except for the $350 he spends on his brand new cowboy boots.
When Violet Budd, his wife of 13 years, finds Brian snoring in drunken sleep and discovers his boots, she is enraged. She confronts Brian and insists he return the boots. Brian reacts angrily and verbally assaults Violet. Verbal conflict leads to a scuffle and Violet ends up "crashing into a tower of empties."
Immediately, Warner has turned readers against Brian. It's easy to be disgusted with a man who squanders money his daughter needs and who roughs up his wife.
That's certainly Warner's intention.
It isn't Warner's intention to make me detest Brian on a personal level.
But a flawed fellow can't help how he reacts to a scene, eh b'ys?
The minute I eyed Brian's boots and realized he'd selfishly wasted money on them – remember, this was before he assaulted Violet – I became absolutely poisoned with Brian the wastrel.
Of course, Brian's waste turned my stomach, but a minor malady of mine – the painfully high insteps of both my feet – also factored in to my loathing.
More than half a century ago, when I was a wee bay boy and Roy and Gene and Hoppy were my heroes, I would have robbed trains for a pair of cowboy boots like the ones for sale in Eaton's catalogue. Unfortunately, and heartbreakingly, my humped-up insteps hindered me from ever jamming my tootsies into the characteristically narrow throats of cowboy boots.
Perhaps you can appreciate why I'd instantly despise a scoundrel wearing expensive cowboy boots.
Petty, I know. And surely picking the scabs of childhood injuries still crusted on my ego was not the author's intention by the longest shot. Nevertheless, even before Brian punched Violet, I felt such a vile man should be hove out of the house.
Considering the contempt generated towards Brian in chapter one, the change of narrative point of view in chapter two is a bit of a surprise. Now Brian is speaking and within a couple of pages, some sympathy is seeping into the reader's perception of him. After "two years on the hamster wheel of hurt" Brian still regrets his breakup with Violet and is unable to move on.
That's it. That's the beginning of Warner's novel.
From there on the story of ‘Double Talk’ is told as flashback, back-story, exposition – whatever.
Rebelling against the middle class conditions of her family life in British Columbia, Violet Budd came to Newfoundland to study for an education degree but ended up focusing on women's studies. And according to some unsavory [?] behavior revealed at the end of the story, was, at times, a little bit of a hard-ticket.
At 17, Brian Power left Ireland and headed to Newfoundland, imagining that, because the warm Gulf Stream passed its shores, the beaches would be places where "topless Canadian girls sunbathed until they turned the colour of hazelnut shells."
Violet and Brian met and ... well, read the book.
There are some tickling incidentals in ‘Double Talk’.
For instance, Brian claims he knows the exact time daughter Lucy was conceived: "During an omnibus showing of Coronation Street."
Surely the present-day Sunday morning recaps of said show, so beloved by Newfoundlanders, even now leads to occasional Sabbath snuggles.
Also, St. John's readers likely will smile with fond [?] reminiscence at the mention of Dottie's Potties, the ubiquitous, crater-like potholes eroding city streets.
Again on a personal level, I couldn't believe the first lines on page 222. As I've scribbled in a previous remark, three quarters of a lifetime had vanished since I'd happened across a once familiar figure of speech.
Here it is again – gotta be some kind of synchronicity – on page 222: "I imagined her [angry] lips tightening to a hen's ..."
Well, to a hen's...chummy.
Thank you for reading.