If you love solving puzzles like Rubik’s Cube you may be enthralled by Doug Diaczuk’s latest novel Just Like A Real Person. The two alternating narratives are recollections and observations clouded by substance abuse, trauma, brain injury, and possibly deception. Only after I reread it did my anxiety and confusion subside enough to discern the underlying messages and appreciate the depths of the story. You need to consider the narrators’ points of view vis-a-vis the others before solid patterns can emerge.
The main character is a junkie and unlicensed serial car-crasher in partnership with Trevor, a tow truck operator. Targeting cars entering and leaving the city, considered to be more likely to contain worldly possessions, he deliberately crashes into them head-on or from behind. The mangled vehicles are then looted and taken to the impound lot. After multiple car crashes and death-defying injuries, the protagonist one night fatefully encounters Lola. She’s wearing a memorable yellow sundress, fleeing her own demons, and looking to crash her stolen car. This chance meeting sets in motion a series of further unfortunate encounters with other characters and tragic consequences.
The story is convoluted and requires patience to decipher. Some of the narrative is an unpunctuated lengthy stream of consciousness followed by more lucid punctuated recaps. The damaged characters use self-destructive behaviour to numb themselves from reality and avoid the responsibility of being “real people”. The rescuers and caregivers of the maimed and dying think of their wards as nonpersons to numb themselves enough to do their jobs. The fine lines between life and death, mental health and madness, hope and despair are a constant threat. The characters tempt fate and by facing death begin to feel alive.
As angry as the characters made me for their wanton disregard of the consequences of their actions, I felt sympathy for their haphazard attempts to heal themselves. They flirted with becoming ‘real people’, engaged in the world, living out ‘normal’ lives. We don’t learn all the details of what brought them to this crossroads, and it is unclear if they eventually emerge safely. But they have underlying strengths and determinations that give the story a sense of hope.
I accept that this is a puzzle of a book that I could never solve. But I am glad I tried.
Doug Diaczuk who lives in Thunder Bay is a two-time winner of the 3-Day Novel Contest. This book and his first novel, Chalk, are published by Anvil Press of Vancouver.
- Publication: June 2021
- ISBN: 978-1-77214-176-4
- Pages: 128 pages
- Size: 5.5 x 8 inches