I don’t read a lot of poetry and the last verse novel I read was Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate, which came out many years ago. But I was intrigued by the reviews and when it made the Booker longlist I moved it up the TBR. Robertson is a highly acclaimed poet, one of two people who has won the Forward Prize for poetry in three different categories.
This is a true verse novel, in my opinion. It is written primarily in poetic form (with short prose sections) but it has the structure and beats of a prose novel. The narrator is Walker, a Canadian veteran of World War II. We meet Walker in New York City in 1948, where he has landed because he feels he cannot go home again and pick up his old life, not given the man he feels he has become. Walker is still suffering psychologically and emotionally from his war experiences, and he is very much a loner. He decides to move west to Los Angeles, where he lives in an SRO and obtains a job on a left-leaning daily newspaper.
Walker is drawn to the skid row community, many of whom are veterans, and he strikes up a friendship with Billy, an African-American veteran and activist. Billy introduces him to members of the community, and Walker gets to know the people in his neighborhood, many of whom are old and in financially precarious circumstances. He spends much of his time walking the streets of LA, from downtown to the ocean. The veteran and senior community he is part of is in stark contrast to the image of Los Angeles as new, presentist, and ever-growing, with construction wiping out what past existed. This perspective is both challenged and reinforced by the film industry: challenged because film noir in particular exposes the corrupt and seedy underside of the construction boom, and reinforced because it can’t help showing Los Angeles in a glamorous light.Read the rest of this entry »