Cary Fagan (review date April 1993)
SOURCE: Fagan, Cary. Review of The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories, by Yann Martel. Quill & Quire 59, no. 4 (April 1993): 22.
[In the following review of The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, Fagan offers praise for Martel's experimental style, narrative voice, and touching stories.]
Yann Martel's first collection of stories [The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories] is notable on the one hand for its warm human voice and on the other for a precocious pleasure in experimenting.
The long title story, which won the 1991 Journey Prize, tells of a young man's friendship for another who is dying of AIDS. The unpretentious telling is like a long spiralling descent into sadness and loss. The series of stories about the fictional Roccamatio family that the two friends tell one another to keep despair at bay is a brilliant and ambitious idea that, if not quite fulfilled, is still effective.
The natural voice comes through again in “The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton.” This time the narrator, again a young man, is exploring Washington when he stumbles upon a concert in a decrepit theatre given by the Maryland Vietnam War Veterans' Chamber Ensemble. This fascination with the peculiarly human gives much of the energy to Martel's writing and makes it genuinely touching.
The other two stories in the collection show Martel as the young writer stretching his wings, with the result that they read like workshop exercises. Yet even here touching moments occur, showing that Martel's real subject is the emotional side of our lives. Once again the Journey Prize has brought to our attention a writer of promise and already of some accomplishment.