Hugh Garner Doug Fetherling - Essay

Doug Fetherling

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Garner] has found the right title: One Damn Thing After Another; for [he] has spent his years stumbling day-to-day, like the rest of us, through the personal and public hells that make up most ordinary lives. The title also says something about the way in which the book has been put together….

Aside from a frequent overlapping of subject matter, the thread that links his work … is a belief in the old freelancer's maxim, "Waste Nothing." While his stories and to a lesser extent his novels are spare in style, they are rich in small geographical and historical details that seem relevant because they help to create moods. His journalism is likewise littered with eccentric information (though often for its own sake) and tends as well to be repetitious. To the extent, then, that an autobiography should be the distillation of a whole career, this one serves its purpose: as he has wavered always between cheap work and good writing, as though unable to find his right level, so he does in this book, as though unable to decide if his past has been worth the trouble. Little here has been wasted and much has been included that should have been forgotten; and so much from both categories is needlessly repeated that The Same Damn Things Again and Again would have been an apt title, too.

Garner has written well here, but only in patches, and these invariably are the most revealing of his personality. There is a chunk about his childhood which in a few thousand words puts that period in sharper focus than the whole of the novel Cabbagetown. (p. 40)

A great deal of One Damn Thing After Another is taken up with his life as a salesman of what he has written rather than as creator of it…. He writes hardly at all about himself in artistic terms except to call himself a proletarian, which I suppose he still is, and an anti-intellectual, which he is in the usual but not literal sense. Most of the remarks about his contemporaries are slurs or simple unopinionated anecdotes…. Anti-intellectual means dummy, which Garner never has been. He's just an intellectual misanthrope, which makes him fresh and rather appealing.

He has always been first of all a storyteller, in the simple sense, but in this book his own story is none too well related. The work contains all the things for which memoirs are enjoyable but not in the proper combinations or strengths. As for personal anecdotes, there are many good ones,...

(The entire section is 1021 words.)