BURNING AND DODGING

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Before arriving at the opulent home of disabled television journalist Peter Bright in the Thousand Islands area of Ontario, Tina Gabler had watched her life follow a not-uncommon trajectory for those who came of age in the 1970s. Leaving behind parental expectations in her home city of New York to join counterculture communities in California and Vermont, then escaping to Canada with a draft-evading boyfriend, she settled into the protean life of a self-employed event planner in Toronto. Now, at the age of 59 in the summer of 2011, she seeks respite from the gig-to-gig grind and an alternative to following her astronomer boyfriend, Carl, on his yearlong residency in the Canary Islands. Peter, once a famous newscaster, is now dealing with aging and the debilitating effects of post-polio syndrome. He needs Tina not only as chef and personal assistant, but also as an aide in organizing his book about “documentary photography and…the manipulation of imagery.” Working for Peter promises Tina not only the prospect of assisting a prominent journalist on a fascinating project, but also the opportunity to reexamine her life and reconnect with her identity as a graphic artist, teasing out the imagined stories captured in photos. In its questioning of art as both representation and a distortion of reality, Schlack’s novel is sincerely thoughtful while also being warmly personal in its study of the struggle to find meaning both in cultural iconography and individual life experiences. Layers exist throughout the text, in the diverse generational views as well as the uses of photographic and video imagery—from Peter’s “factual” journalistic pictures to Tina’s emotive graphic representations and Carl’s quest to define the elusive dark matter of the universe. The book’s title contains layers of meaning in terms that describe human passion and evasiveness and techniques of photo manipulation. As Peter is quickly burning the last of his life’s essence, Tina works to stop dodging her past, her future, and her own unique vision.

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