If, through a combination of science and psychedelia, Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs made a baby, the product of their union would go by the name Nathaniel G. Moore. Tightrope Books, the publisher of Moore's frenetic second novel, Wrong Bar, should have been required to plaster the cover with a warning. Right below the title, in big, bold font, a caption informing readers to brace themselves, to prepare to be hurled at breakneck speed through the brilliantly imaginative mind of one of this country's small-press marvels.
Caution aside, here's a guarantee: Nowhere in Canadian publishing, small press or otherwise, is there a writer quite like Nathaniel G. Moore, or a novel quite like Wrong Bar. Among the creations oozing from Moore's pen is a gigantic metallic insect covered with mossy grey pubic hair and numerous pulsating eyes. This beast emerges from a Maudlin City manhole, intent on tormenting the protagonist with something resembling a huge, pink phallic wand (you really must read it for yourself).
There are wood wasps burrowing into the brains of humans; there are earthworms possessed with an ability to converse with one another. There are also dance parties, drugs, death and sex.
Wrong Bar defies categorization. Part first-person narration, part hallucinatory observation, the story progresses through several devices, including the use of text messages, a film script, news clippings, transcripts from police reports and a couple of (simplistic) illustrations.
The novel's opening chapter resembles scraps of film that could well have been found on the editing-room floor of that Jim Carrey film about a pet detective. Because its creator is Nathaniel G. Moore, though, the imagery is well above any Hollywood script.
Moore's central character, author-poet Charles Haas, who incidentally appears to be in the midst of a writer's funk, is the mastermind behind Operation Gemini. Haas goes undercover to investigate an illegal domestic fish farm operating out of the Maudlin City pet store, Sloppy Salmon's Wet Pet Centre.
Moore's dialogue is spiny, yet polished, humorous in a things-could-go-drastically-wrong-at-any-second kind of way. Having "quarantined" (read: gagged and duct taped) the employees in a back storage room, Haas poses as a Sloppy Salmon employee, serving snotty-nosed customers while noting the conditions of the store's aquaculture: "Harsh growth conditions. … Steroids in the eyes, fucked up water sources … shoddy fish feeders … bleeding tanks haven't been properly cleaned and would never pass inspection." Genuine concern, or so it seems, until several passages later when Haas and his long-suffering literary intern, Cate, meet at a sushi hut for a debrief and lunch.
When Wrong Bar threatens to get silly, it suddenly veers headlong into serious. Without intending to, Haas becomes mixed up with a horde of degenerate youths led by hatemongering Shawn Michaels. Under his spell are minions Jim and Lee. Along for the ride are a clowder of hellcats. All conspire in a plot of revenge, destruction and murder, and in the middle of it all is Charles Haas. At 29, he proves no match for the cultish young folks' stamina and cruelty. Haas is still plying his trade on a typewriter, for Pete's sake.
Making the novel all the more pertinent is a notation on the final pages of the book stating that inspiration for the work arose from the real-life murder of a 14-year-old Toronto girl, as well as a 2007 MySpace hoax that resulted in a 13-year-old girl hanging herself.
A deft hand at metaphor, Moore can also conjure up impressive similes, as attractive as they are repulsive: "… like a sea of tuna flakes and vomit falling into my eyes as I swim under water." One bothersome distraction in the novel is Moore's near-obsessive desire to write about the writing process. Peppered throughout are lines such as, "If I were a subject of a piece of fiction …" and, "This is not why people write books."
While on the subject of distractions, the significance of the title, Wrong Bar, is never made clear.
As a result of writers lacking imagination, a good amount of literary work produced today is boring. Considering the creative acrobatics of Wrong Bar, no one could ever label Nathaniel G. Moore's writing as boring. Peculiar, yes, enigmatic, absolutely. But boring? Not a chance.
Edward Brown is the Journey Prize-nominated author of Playing Basra.