Dark Diversions

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A Traveler’s Tale

Raconteur, analyst, literary activist and pundit, you bet. Dark Diversions is more a collection of encounters between a suspiciously detached narrator and various strange and sinister characters in exotic locations than a conventionally plotted novel — a dictator in Haiti, murderous nouveau riche in the Hamptons and the Riviera, a neo-fascist playboy in Italy, a lonely heiress seeking love in the subways of New York.

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Is he the cynical and dispassionate, Maugham-like gadfly, the bemused observer of the human catastrophe that he appears to be, or a player with motives he keeps close to his chest? Alternatively a cloistered academic, a corporate executive, a fellow traveller with guerrilla forces in Africa and Asia, defender of freedom-of-speech rights on the public stage, confidante of the rich and powerful, wise Canadian Everyman and outspoken Don Quixote charging at the windmills of globalism, Saul has much from which to draw the cunning little vignettes that make Dark Diversions such a readable book.

He had no intention of shooting the thing.

Dark Diversions: Ich Tu Dir Weh @ Cactus Cafe Bar 16:09:17

Dictators are boring. But by moving into fiction, you actually find what is interesting about those people. It raises interesting questions for the reader. And it provides moments of unusual humour.

Review of John Ralston's Saul's Dark Diversions

Nasty and short is also a fair characterization of many stories in this book, insofar as Bell tends to relate awful happenings with an efficiency verging on glibness. Instead, they have a kinship with medieval fabliaux, those short, broad satires written for oral performance and preoccupied with class, food, and sex. One imagines that Bell has rehearsed his stories as the dinner guest of wealthy friends, earning his crust by relieving his hosts of their boredom.

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  • The scheming socialites and fatuous politicians satirized by Bell are easy targets, and they are skewered in too familiar, too tidy a manner. Such readers are apt to prefer stories that more actively reject convention and, by refusing to satisfy a desire for formulaic fiction, risk boring them, even set out to bore them.

    In Dark Diversions , Bell is too loquacious to give us or himself the opportunity to experience such potential. The handful of self-disclosures he does offer—e.


    Dark Diversions

    And some of those things are disturbing, as when Bell witnesses the murder of a close friend, then writes a chillingly dispassionate story about it the next day. Like Anna, he feels trapped by love without any traditional structures holding it together. These are stories about the tragic intermingling of power and love, and certainly they are dark, sometimes to the point that reciting the plots alone would make them seem morbid and gratuitous.

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    • But Saul has a knack for compassionate characterizations, wry one-liners and wicked turns of phrase, and he successfully turns the merely depressing into black comedy, often with profound implications. Progressively, however, the stories become more intertwined, the transitions smoother, and his own personal involvement deeper. The first half dozen or so narratives hold almost no literal connection, and could be featured separately in a short story collection.

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