Cox, Daniel Allan. “Mouthquake”, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015.
A Boy With a Stutter
I am a huge fan of Daniel Cox and have been since his first book “Shock” that was published in 2009. Every time I hear that he has a new book coming out, I notify him immediately telling him that I want to review it. It is that time again—his new book, “Mouthquake” goes on sale September 1 but I understand that are already places where there copies for sale.
“Mouthquake” is set in Montreal in 1979 and is the story of a boy who comes-of-age using sound to remember his past. Having had a linguistic minor in college, I can tell you how difficult it is to write about language but Cox does so here with great style. There is nothing conventional about this novel just as I have discovered that there is nothing conventional about Daniel Cox whose four novels are all totally different from each other. You just think you know where something is going and then it turns around and goes the other way.
We meet our protagonist, an unnamed young man whose stutter begins just about the same time, as does a crack in the wall at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. We have to wonder if the two or related and if so, how so? As I read I was reminded of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams and that he tells us the play is a memory play and memories are not always so clear. Williams also tells us that memory is aligned to music and that music often triggers memory. We must ask ourselves if memory stops when music stops. Many of us remember what we want to remember and put in the back of our minds until something happens to move those memories forward.
I do not know how he did it, but Cox writes as if his language stutters. One of the beauties of this book (beside, of course, the gorgeous prose) is the way Cox has written this story. He uses detail to explain some of that, which cannot be explained. I was well aware of the awe that I felt for the author as I read his words.
The blurb for the book says that it is “a coming-of-age tale that telescopes through time like an amnesiac memoir … finds its strange beat in subliminal messages hidden in skipping records, in the stutters of celebrities, and in the wisdom of The Grand Antonio, a suspicious mystic who helps the narrator unlock the secret to his speech”. We soon find that the book is filled with “innuendo, rumors, and the tangled barbs of repressed memory”. This causes us to question if it is indeed possible to hand a past of trouble and abuse. Whether that is answered, you will find out by reading this book. However, as we read we are also asked some really difficult questions.
As I said earlier, the boy is dependent on memory to answer the important questions of his life. Those memories must be triggered by some impulse from the outside. His story is one of someone who has lived on and been nurtured by the streets although he does have a period during which he lives with friends and this gives him a sense of purpose as well as camaraderie. It is his living with others that brings to the cusp of manhood and allows him to cross the threshold from one world into another. He meets Eric, who is deaf and the two maintain a relationship.
Author Amber Dawn (“Sub Rosa”) tells us “Daniel gives us not a coming-of-age but a contorting-of-age novel”. That says it perfectly and as he weaves this story author Daniel Cox mixes his poetic prose with just the right amount of grit. There are surprises at every turn and those surprises bring even more surprises.
I am quite sure that there is a lot of the author in the story but I am not sure where it is. Most of us will have to reach our own conclusions but I can tell you that this is not the kind of book you read, close the covers and walk away from. Wherever you are going, it is going with you and will stay there for quite a while.
Author Cox has also included an afterword by writer and activist Sarah Schulman.