Author: Dewey, Joseph
Date published: October 1, 2011
Steve Weiner. Sweet England. New Star Books, 2010. 166 pp. Paper: $19.00.
Unlike Reagan's America, which has been reconstructed into an upbeat themepark culture-scape redolent with dayspring warmth, Maggie Thatcher s England has darkened into a forbidding nightworld of miasmic unease and emotional drift, of economic alienation and free-floating anxiety blurred into a manageable absurdity only by retreat into alcohol or indifference or pointless rage. For Canadian writer Steve Weiner, love in the time of Thatcher is appropriately desperate and disjointed, a white-noise whir of stochastic event without the politesse of logic. In the beginning of Sweet England, an unemployed man whose background, indeed whose name is never certain (we are told only that he is a "mess of wounds") appears, with the thin stability of a conjuration, by a pub in north London. He moves with the inexplicable directness of a dream to an apartment building where he falls (disastrously) in love with Brenda Leigh, a dumpy alcoholic who simply knocks at his door with wonderland imperative (she calls herself his "assignment") and whose death (or perhaps suicide) serves as the central event in Weiner's Escher-esque plot. In a striking visual style that recalls the lacerating imagery of David Lynch, in clipped Beckettian dialogue lashed with non-sequiturs, in a plot suffused with caustic ironies, the two struggle against each others comfort, a hopeless endeavor that closes appropriately with a hung inquest unable to determine whether Brenda was killed or killed herself. For all the brutal existential absurdities, however, there lingers about Weiner's narrative a persistent spirituality, a haunted sense that this flesh-and-blood masquerade cannot be the endgame it appears to be- religious images recur, characters linger in musty churches, they puzzle out the implications of mortality beyond the cellular holocaust implicit in flesh and blood. They hunger for spiritual investment, and for Weiner that hunger - seductive, even erotic in its ironic intensity - suffices. [Joseph Dewey]