Monday Magazine : Candance Fertile
Brian Brett is one of those writers hanging out on the edge of fictional possibility, and while he occasionally slips over, the trippy journey is never dull. Coyote: A Mystery, his new novel, ricochets around the conventions of narration and blows most of them up.
Coyote is a legend – an eco-terrorist who has snuggled down on a fictional Gulf Island called Artemis to enjoy his old age. (Brian (no not Brian the author, but Brian the narrator … or maybe it is Brian the author) is trying to find Coyote to write about his past. The catalyst for the activity is the disappearance of Rita Norman, a graduate student in anthropology, who is connected to both Brian and Coyote. On the legal side of things, Inspector Janwar Singh and Corporal Kirsten Crosby are investigating Rita’s whereabouts – and, of course, professional duties get tangled up with personal ones. Singh and Crosby have mild flirtation going, but once Singh takes a vacation to Artemis (which bears just the merest hint of similarity to Salt Spring, Brett’s own home island) he falls into a ridiculous romp with a new ager and wants to change his life. Honestly, this part of the novel is laughable.
What’s compelling about Coyote, however is the eco-terrorism. Brian gets Coyote to recount his past (animal liberations which result in the deaths of animals, for example) plus other acts of sabotage which attract the press but apparently not much change. It’s impossible to know whose side Brett is on here; he’s taking a hard look at everyone and no one comes off unscated. At one point, he even takes on himself and the style/arrangement of the novel: “I’ll give you love and murder, and the ecology of life as we know it – you and I – awkward and out of tune with the world, angled like arrows entering water.” Brett frequently uses the motif of lying and storytelling, so readers are constantly having to look at their feet to check their placement on the ground. He succeeds beautifully in a constant process of unsettling.
Coyote must be read with a completely open mind about the possibilities of fiction. It works backwards and forwards in time, and it loops around crazily. It has devastating wit, and what makes that wit even more arresting is the lack of clarity about where the bar is aimed (I think this technique is planned perceptively.) Brett’s novel may totally grab you, or it may infuriate you, but it will definitely make you thing – about love, about ecology, about writing. Coyote was hard to put down, as much for its language as its plot.