Publication Date: Apr 28, 2009
List Price US $15.95
List Price US $15.95
The girls of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women’s Book Club are at a crossroads. One of their founding members is dead, they’ve made a few unfortunate compromises to their membership, some of them aren’t getting any younger, and they’ve been stuck on a single weepy tome for six long months. Resident maverick Runner Coghill decides to shake things up by introducing a cherished family heirloom to the group—ten pristine stone tablets, carved in cuneiform, telling the oldest story in the world: The Epic of Gilgamesh. Because their new book is written in an ancient language, the group must take the unprecedented step of allowing Runner to translate the whole story for them. But Runner’s narration is not of a common vein. Before they know it, the Cabalists have been thrust out to sea, on a journey in search of answers that extends halfway across the world to the war-torn land of this oldest story’s birth.
The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal is an offbeat rites-of-passage novel whose characters live out literature with ferocity and passion. It is a funny, quixotic debut that follows the members of a shallow, squabbling, time-wasting, protracted-adolescent book club as they find themselves transformed through the alchemy of the storyteller’s art.
Excerpt from The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal
The Lacuna Cabal had not always met on the fifth floor of the Jacob Lighter Building at 5819 St-Laurent. In our efforts to keep moving, we tried cellars, garrets, walk-in closets, and bell towers, with very little account given to our general welfare and comfort. Priority was given rather to the idea that the location should suit the book, the book the location. It went beyond re-enactment and into the realm of living out, as much as possible, the story of the book, in the hope that its experience would rub off on us. Thus we considered ourselves to be the premium reading club of the English-speaking world.
This method took some refinement. An early example: we once conducted a spontaneous public reading of a novel in verse called Autobiography of Red at the airport, for which we all painted ourselves top to toe for the occasion. It was later agreed, however, that we did not absorb a great deal from the presentation, beyond a bit of pigment, some skin rashes, and a charge of public mischief (dismissed).
And another time, early on, we kidnapped the aging poet Irving Layton for four hours from the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Côte-Saint-Luc and took him for an excursion up the mountain–a trip from which he was reported to have reappeared sporting a diadem of autumn leaves and looking immensely satisfied. That one made the papers. And the evening news. Still, it had been dangerous and seemed like a cheat to meet the poet himself rather than the words in his book.
“A heavily embroidered coming-of-age tale…. Energetic….Full of sound and fury.” —Kirkus Reviews
“An unapologetically high-concept novel that is both giddy and reverential.” —Quill and Quire
“The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal’s a fierce and challenging and spunky book, and it’s fun as hell…” —Corduroy Books
“It takes a gifted writer to bring back the days when some of us were gawky college kids, loud and pretentious and arty. Canadian Sean Dixon draws readers into a complex circle of people lurching into their 20s…It’s structured like a screenplay, the camera moving swiftly from one setup to the next…[a] remarkably original new story.” —St. Petersburg Times
“Sean Dixon weaves an interesting tale about how seemingly misfits with totally disjoined lifestyles and life experiences can come together in friendship and for a common cause…His characters draw the reader in and make them hungry to see what happens next. The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal is widely imaginative, part comedy-part tragedy, and most likely entirely improbable, but I found it hard to put down and quite enjoyable too.” —American Chronicle
“Sean Dixon is a worthy successor to some of Canada’s foremost authors. He is in possession of an imaginative gift akin to Timothy Findley, the erudition and style of Robertson Davies and the off beat humor of Mordecai Richler. And like them, he is deserving of recognition and a following south of the border.” —Bruce Bauman, author of And the Word Was
“A sort of Tristram Shandy for the twenty-first century, Dixon’s first novel is an intellectual, sexual, logorrheic, bibliophilic, cryptological, political, and archaeological rant of the first order. It’ll blow your mind.” —Michael Redhill, author of Consolation
1. Runner and Neil “wondered how a piece of text written six thousand years ago could speak so eloquently to them about their loss and grief, until eventually they stopped wondering and accepted that it was so.” How does the modern interpretation of ancient texts help them and the members of the Lacuna Cabal Book Club deal with Ruby’s death and their own lives?
2. Coby had been traumatized as a teenager by reading a book “in which the male protagonist, unable to perform, had been thrown out of his paramour’s apartment” (page 93), and Dumuzi secretly reads Chinese poetry and cares about the ninth-century poet Yu-Xuanji in a way that mystifies him (page 97). Emmy is so heartbroken about a breakup that she loses her love of literature (page 24), while Runner insists that the discussion of books can change the world (page 159). What do these experiences of the Lacuna Cabal members say about the power and limits of literature? Do you believe reading can change lives?
3. Sexuality plays a big role in the lives of the members: Runner’s lack of it, Coby’s initiation by Emmy, Romy’s feelings for Emmy, Missy’s attempts to get pregnant, Anna’s forays into prostitution, Dumuzi’s desire for Anna. What do you think about the complications and some of the resolutions of their experiences?
4. Why does the group break their cardinal rule of having no male members (except for Neil who was not a true member but “present to the membership” (page 29). How do the men deal with their second-class status?
5. Romy agrees to play Humbaba, tempted to experience violence and annihilation, but regrets it. After the struggle and Romy’s traumatic loss of her hair, Dumuzi asks, if a woman invented this task, then why should a woman get the short end of the stick? (page 151) What are some other examples of self-destructiveness on the part of the female members of the club?
6. How do the group dynamics work in the Lacuna Cabal Book Club? What are the different ways that Runner and the other members react to Missy’s wielding of her power as the founder and head of the group? How do you understand Missy’s increasing self-awareness and understanding of her desire for power by the end of the book?
7. Even though Aline is a cross-dresser struggling with illusion and reality, it is he who looks at violence and masculinity and tries to bring attention to the war in Iraq. What do his conflicts illustrate? How does recalling the “old secret feelings of beautiful androgyny” effect Aline? (page 178)
8. Aline suggests the group read a blog next: “I move that if we embrace the past then we must also embrace the future. I move that if we accept books of stone then we should be able to propose blogs…a relevant blog” (pages 62—63). This book refers to many different forms of writing, from the ancient texts to children’s books, plays, e-mail, and blogs. How do you relate to these formats? Do you agree or disagree with Aline?
9. Neil tries to keep his sister Runner from courting death, but she lives out the myth of the sisters who were “so close as to be almost the same person” (page 183) and rejoins her sister Ruby. How does the Baghdad Blogger act as the wise man and use the Inanna myth to reinterpret Neil’s destiny for him as himself, Neil Coghill the Real McCoghill?
10. Coby is first described as seeming “barely human” (page 71), attached only to his artificial intelligence project, which was supposed to be designed to become “intelligent through exploration and a sense of touch” (page 70). However, Coby programs his fitzbot to seek cover and comfort in the shadows and avoid humans. He has a breakdown when he thinks the fitzbot is stolen, but once he gets involved with Emmy he forgets about it. How do you think Coby finally works out his feelings for Emmy and his work with the fitzbot, body and mind?
11. Each character seems to have his or her own self-made myth. Describe how they see themselves. Do these perceptions change by the end of the novel? How do you see these characters?
12. Humor and wit is all-pervasive in this book. Do you think it merges well with the difficult and sad events that take place?
13. The final message to Gilgamesh and to Neil is the same: The best way to honor the dead is to live the best life you can. Do you believe that this is a universal truth that provides us with the strength to accept our mortality?