An advance copy of Dennis E. Bolen’s latest book, Anticipated Results, arrived in the mail not long ago and I dug into it with purpose, finishing it in only two sittings which is a rare thing for me lately as I have very little “free” time. It’s wholly captivating, yet for some reason upon finishing this review of it below what’s amusing is that I have to preface it by saying that I enjoyed it, and that it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact it’s not bad at all; despite having tragic characters it’s a fantastic read.
Is the usage of the word “spoiler” in reviews something relatively new that has surfaced in journalism in the last 25 years? Perhaps I should ask Dennis E. Bolen, as I didn’t clue in that the characters in his book weren’t my age until about halfway through when it dawned on me that they were actually a couple of decades ahead of me. You see, there is something that I feel is a very “Vancouver” phenomenon that I didn’t realize wasn’t confined to my generation until Dennis pointed it out to me in this latest book of his, published by Arsenal Pulp Press. The characters in Anticipated Results could be any age beyond 19 (alcohol plays a lead role), and I just assumed that they were my own until the narrator let slip that he was 9 years old in 1962, putting him more than 20 years beyond me and even 30 beyond a great portion of our readers. But I know these people. I have attended their awkward dinner parties and joined them on boozy camping excursions, I have witnessed their failings and I have done my best to avoid becoming roommates with them in the past. These are not a breed exclusive to the Boomer generation that Dennis is a part of, just strip away some of the brands of booze that they soak up and sub in some more recent cultural references and there you have them: some of your adult-aged, going-nowhere friends.
The stories are woven together by a thread of alcohol abuse and a haze of weed smoke which – if I might keep this within my “very Vancouver phenomenon theory” context while making a fairly broad stroke of a generalization about substance abuse – I feel sometimes becomes normalized or perhaps simply justified by the presence of harder drugs and their effect in plain view in our city, setting the bar lower for “success”; by only relying on not-as-hard drugs the users see themselves a couple of notches above “those people”. Which isn’t at all a definition of success but is just barely getting by without doing a complete downward spiral, it’s more of a half-assed cartwheel if you will. In the end some of us end up being, as Bolen puts it, “middle-aged burnouts”, and their follies are what make up this book in a number of entertaining yet somewhat cautionary tales.
In them, a not quite motley crew of alcoholics plan and unsuccessfully execute an intervention with their friend who drinks slightly more heavily than they do, and the bar that they frequent is vaguely familiar (if it is in fact the Jolly Alderman, as I suspect, I spent some time there in the 90’s). I realized that the characters are almost like the forgotten and looked-over ghosts that have warmed the barstools that our peers are slowly sliding onto, and that this might not be a symptom of the region as I originally theorized but perhaps it’s a human condition perpetuated by the company we keep and the choices we make in our lives.
So here’s where the spoiler part I mentioned off the top comes in. The trip Dennis takes you on is somewhat frightening but not a shocker by any means and it winds up in a place of realization that I wonder if he meant to bring us to when he first begun writing these stories. I’m speaking as someone who has sat on the brink of becoming one of these characters, and the descriptions of the lifestyle I feel could only be written so poignantly by someone who has also been there, or who perhaps still has one cheek on that stool. And hell, perhaps I’m sitting high on some horse here in even assuming that these stories were written from the vantage point that is the top of my nose, but I also read that Bolen is issuing a warning by telling stories of those who never “figured out what [they] wanted to do and then done it.”.
In the end it’s well worth picking up. Like I said, it captivated me enough to finish it in only two sittings which says a lot. I’m really looking forward to tracking down some other Dennis E. Bolen books. Learn more about this one HERE!
Arsenal Pulp Press invites you to join us at the Brickhouse Late Nite Bistro & Bar for the launch of Anticipated Results, a new collection of short fiction from veteran fiction writer Dennis E. Bolen
Tuesday, April 12 · 8:00pm – 11:00pm
At the Brickhouse Late Nite Bistro & Bar
730 Main Street, Vancouver, BC
Facebook event page HERE.