Jack Hodgins David L. Jeffrey

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David L. Jeffrey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jack Hodgins is possibly the most important new talent to emerge in English Canadian writing during the last several years….

His work has color and humor. It has a rich literacy and intellectual depth, and yet it is uncluttered by the pretentiousness of compulsive and overbearing credential-mongering which so often accompanies straining attempts at those qualities. Hodgins is both a good craftsman and a gifted stylist. (p. 70)

In these respects it is not without significance that Hodgins [in Spit Delaney's Island] served his apprenticeship as a short story writer, and that even in The Invention of the World he develops his novel almost as if it, too, were a collection of short stories…. That the novel should be focused not through the eyes of any single narrator, but through the several worlds of minor as well as major characters …, that it should be told in a plurality of voices and perspectives, is one of the novel's most important ideas. The maintenance of several discrete points of perspective in such a format allows, happily, for the deployment of his superb short fiction skills and style. In the novel, as in the stories, one meets with an intensity and concreteness of insight, dialogue and event, set within almost lyric qualities of character revelation. The result is narrative tour de force which conjures with—and rivals—the stories of Flannery O'Connor.

Because the center of Hodgins' geographical world is his native Vancouver Island …, and because the grotesque extravagance of his characters might seem plausible only in such a place, it is tempting to extend the analogy with O'Connor and treat him as a gifted regional writer, adding some of the usual cliches about the greater universality his characters express. This will not quite do for Hodgins. His characters are regional enough, as anyone who appreciates the North Island will cheerfully affirm…. [But] Hodgins is more accurately to be appreciated as a subcultural writer. The distinction is not so subtle as it might seem. The regional writer's work is imbued with particular landscape, manners, colloquial speech and local tradition. At his best he or she makes of the local world a microcosm, and so 'translates' it to the world at large. The subcultural writer, on the other hand, adds to these features his community's prepossessing sense of contest with the 'outside world,' and strives to articulate their desire for peculiar magic, or as the adolescent heroine of The Invention puts it, their essential difference…. The regional factor is inescapably a material element of expression, but motive in the subcultural writer, perhaps especially these days, has been shaped by the much wider struggle around him for differentiation.

If Hodgins is much more interesting and accessible than many subcultural writers working out of the contemporary mosaic, it is partly because the particular form of subcultural proclamation, of which Vancouver Island is an extravagant paradigm, is in itself a sort of historical cartoon by which a much wider and contemporary psychosis may be vividly dramatized. The Island to which Hodgins invites us on his mythic ferry boat is not so much a state of nature, or of civilization either, as it is a modern and especially North American state of mind. Here is a kind of reserve of lost causes, misty nostalgia for a tarnished and compromised Europa, thoroughly mixed up with innumerable back-yard versions of the original American dream, and set in a place where history has been condensed and motives and patterns made more visible (and usually far more interesting) by force of particular extremes. What Hodgins writes about is the Island Mind itself, its bizarre dreams, its truncated perspectives on the world, its frenetic ambivalence about history, its flight from the world—above all its unending pursuit of the private mythology—but what he mirrors in fact is the frustrated questions of a whole frontier-less continent now increasingly turned in upon itself...

(The entire section is 1,405 words.)