About this book
A doll is taped to the hood of a wedding car. A list of favourite cocktails from the eighties. Hide the drugs from your parents and your kids. Kevin Costner in Waterworld: hot or not?
Smoke Show is a novel that will astound readers with its audacious, stripped-down narrative set in the mid-nineties about assorted f**k-ups, diehards, and lost souls, seen through a hazy filter of bus fumes and cigarette smoke. Told in "real time," Smoke Show is raw, candid, amorphous; told through jargon and petty dialogue commonly heard in the street or on public transit, Smoke Show is a novel told in conversation. Itis a dissonant, close-to-the bone explosion of everything and nothing at the same time, like watching a film whose sound does not match the images. In his debut novel, Clint Burnham evokes William Gaddis, David Foster Wallace, and Irvine Welsh, a trippy period piece that takes no prisoners.
Shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
What at first might seem a shallow, postmodern conceit is shown to be layered, consequential, real. Like a good documentary, Smoke Show
reveals without condescension.
—The Georgia Straight
His ear for conversation is impeccable and often hilarious, as quintessentially low-brow Canuck as a squashed Kokanee can...What makes this book work is it spaciousness, creating a kind of post-modern mad-lib where the reader supplies the narrative connective tissue, not unlike an actual overheard conversation. It's not for everyone, but it could be the perfect stocking stuffer for the literate hipster on your Christmas list.
Burnham writes with an impressive confidence, delivering dialogue that rings so true one can imagine him with a tape recorder, prowling food courts and house parties for material.
—The Globe and Mail
[Clint Burnham's] use of negative space is elegant and his economy of language is downright ascetic... The result is a loose knit of tangled found dialogue which itself forms the shape of something: as close to nothingness as it's possible to achieve on the printed page.
—Melora Koepke, The Vancouver Sun
A novel of many voices ... Burnham combines a poet's rhythmic sensibility with an impeccable ear for self-contradictory speech.
Best known in the U.S. as the author of The Jamesonian Unconscious: The Aesthetics of Marxist Theory
, a critical study, the Vancouver-based Burnham also writes short stories (Airborne Photo
) and poetry (Be Labor Reading and Buddyland
). This book is best classed in that last category: billed as a novel, it reads like a verse play, one comprising elegantly concise dialogues among woefully inarticulate, tragically maladapted and often inebriated adults whose main occupation is low-level trade in drugs and bodily fluids. Nothing much happens: people drive, roll joints, complain about music or partners, open beers or ask for them, debate the merits of hedges vs. fences, have sex, watch TV, take care of children, breathlessly recount the entire plots of C-grade movies, contemplate building a deck, cut up hot dogs and generally get on with the fuzzy stasis that constitutes disenfranchisement, to the point where a voice can sum itself up with the phrase: \"Yeah, so like I guess I\'m mostly classic rock.\" Imagine countless permutations on that theme, and you have this book. Burnham is pitch-perfect all the way through.
In Smoke Show
, Clint Burnham has written a contemporary social narrative by ear alone. The perfect pitch of Burnham's vernacular is proof of the weirdness of the grammar of ordinary conversation ("You know like instead of before")—a din of baroque linguistic constructions otherwise barely audible. The foreshortened horizons of the characters—young couples getting by mostly on welfare and recreational drugs—and their hedging, ambivalence, and inability to commit either to action or opinion is evident in the "yeah no" tag that prefaces most discussions as well as th"whatever" they dwindle into.
is the linguistic equivalent of pictorial realism. Burnham's transcription of rhythm and nuance renders individual voices recognizable within their tiny lexicon of murmurs and avoidances. This is a troubling novel, not least because of the passivity and automatism it evinces as a major condition of our time. Burnham has written a complex, innovative work that forces us to listen, in astonishment and embarrassment, to ourselves.
Written by Vancouver's irreverent master Clint Burnham, Smoke Show
reads like bus stop or rec-room chatter among potheads and slackers. Burnham's languid prose will take the edge off any cynical, overheated reader.