#48 – Exotic Dancers, by Gerald Lynch

I did not realize it when I purchased this book, but it is a sort-of sequel to his 1996 novel Troutstream, which also happens to the be the name of the fictional Ottawa suburb in which both books take place. Perhaps it would have been useful to have read that book first, I don’t know. I bought Exotic Dancers mostly, I’ll admit, because of the interesting cover and the fact that it’s told in several different voices, including passages in which the narrator breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the reader and discusses events in his life unrelated to the story. Besides, the title suggested that there might be a little bit of sex and adventure in this story, and I am still on a deliberate search for something less parochial in Canadian letters.

The first fifty pages could not have done more to turn me off. The introductory sequence was vague and ultimately irrelevant, and the various voices (Maggie, Jonathan, Holly and Joe) were flat and their expressions somewhat clichéd. Lynch has no ear at all for slang, and doesn’t really have any sense of youth culture, despite having to depict the internal monologue of two teenagers (sitting down to watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with your kids in 2000/2001? I think you’re a decade late, Mr. Lynch). Exotic Dancers is named after an incident early in the novel that has almost no connection with the main narrative but is not significant enough to be considered a legitimate sub-plot. I know that it’s satire, and probably intended to be funny, but it just isn’t. It seems rather sad, actually. This Ottawa suburb seems smaller and more provincial than the rural northern community where I grew up. Bingo games bringing players from all over the Ottawa area, and then the community behaving like there’s no strippers anywhere in Ottawa? I find both those things difficult to believe. I don’t frequent strip clubs, but I have been more than once, and Lynch’s description of Bernadette’s routine is so far from the truth that it simply can’t qualify as satire. The characters are very conservative about sex and relationships, with the exception of Holly, who is mentally ill. Lynch really has no choice but to burn down the bar where the strippers work; there’s no way he could continue with that storyline and keep his readers’ respect.

The entire first half of the novel is a mess, in fact. Lynch can’t seem to decide what his book is going to be about. Is it a patchwork satire of a fictional suburb? Is it the heartbreaking story of a young female athlete going slowly insane? Is it the story of a difficult romance between two unemployed single parents? Around the halfway point Lynch decides that it is the latter, and everything snaps into focus. The subplots become subplots and cease to fight for top billing. The characters’ voices gain some depth from having specific narrative roles, and the satirical set-pieces (a long and wonderful bit skewering an overbearing teacher is almost worth the purchase price on its own) are suddenly funny, effective, and have a sense of connection to the plot.

Exotic Dancers is certainly not the best novel I’ve read this year, but it ended strongly, and Lynch eventually brought me to care about his characters. Perhaps another pass could have brought more cohesion to the book, but Exotic Dancers left a strong enough final impression that I may go back and find Troutstream.

Exotic Dancers was my third selection for the Second Canadian Book Challenge. Next up is The Tracey Fragments, by Maureen Medved.


Writer. Editor. Critic.

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