Can The Gods Cry? by Allan Cameron

can the gods cryBreaking the Rules

In the afterword to Can The Gods Cry?, the author states, “As I reread these short stories before publication, my principal emotion was one of disappointment at their inability to live up to the original idea. The reasons for this failure probably lie in that original concept itself and in my limitations as a writer.” Whether this is all meant as ironic humour or deliberate misrepresentation, there are some aspects of this afterword that ring rather too true. Even the back page blurb reads as a review of the collection (attempting to override actual reviews), mentioning how “The plot in one story stands out from the others.” Hold onto your hats readers, your challenge is to wade through the rest until you find it.

Cameron tries to work innovatively in this collection, with awareness that he is covering previously trodden ground. He counteracts this with weighty but convoluted prose that suggests it might lead somewhere if the reader can just persevere a little longer. Too many false promises of pudding will leave readers with gurgling tummies. Bypassing Cameron’s tendency to veer towards sententious dialogue and poorly hidden polemic is difficult.

Cameron makes no apology for breaking the accepted ground rules for writers, using adverbs (“… a lot of the academicians, the prescribers of good English don’t like you doing that.”), italicisation and capitalisation to convey meaning (as in the final dramatic climax of ‘Escaping the Self’.) It is refreshing to read a book so adamantly written in a way that flouts the rules whilst still aiming to attain literary status. Cameron wants it both ways: he roots his stories in the everyday, readers meet familiar types in Scottish locations; then the net is thrown far from
home.

Easy postmodern tricks (“That’s right. I’m the Narrative Voice and I’m telling a story about you.” – ‘The Narrative Voice, Litter, Dog Turds and Sundry Other Things Most Base and Foul’ and “Let me take time out from these short stories to speak as the author in an imagined dialogue…” –‘The Essayist’) meet with stories written in experimental forms (“…entirely written in iambic / trochaic meter” says Cameron of the shortest story in the collection, ‘This’). ‘The Difficulty Snails Encounter in Mating’ takes the form of an eighteen page letter and ‘A Dream of Justice’
incorporates half or full-page sections of narrative heavy dialogue, then reverts to narrative proper when back story or context is required. This mix and match approach could work but Can The Gods Cry? is a clunky collection, lacking a clear sense of what links the stories within.

A reader who makes it through the mishmash will be met with a commentary on the collection. The Author’s Afterword raises questions about whether this book should have been published in its current form, undermining any editors who were involved with the work, the publisher (Cameron’s own Vagabond Voices) and the author. While it might have been intended as a Nabokovian joke, ultimately it is an accurate misrepresentation that exposes an unhappy author and haughty publisher of an unsatisfactory collection. As a final ‘dear reader’ message it conveys an egotistical tone and in ending his afterword, Cameron references George Orwell’s 1984 then quotes from his own work. The pompous finale sums things up well: this collection is too big for its boots. A brief afterword to a tightly edited collection, a mention of how dedicated the writer was and a mature approach – if it doesn’t work, pull it and tweak it until it does – would have been much better received.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Can The Gods Cry?
Allan Cameron
Vagabond Voices, rrp £11•00, 256pp