Globe &Mail review of The Sink

Jim Bartley, June 29, 2002

What a bracing affront to expectation is The Sink. Here is a “road” novel that never leaves town, a book that, were it required reading in driving schools, would almost certainly save lives—not to mention inject some mirth into what must be the most sedative of all classrooms.

A former ESL teacher and driving instructor in Toronto, W. Messer assesses the sorry state of our urban subconscious as revealed in the discord on city streets and expressways.

Most of us are motorists, whether drivers or hapless passengers. We have all been stupefied by the apoplectic horn-honker intent on laying a trail of burnt rubber to the next red light. Our ally against such idiocy is Rufus, a driving instructor grappling tooth and claw and handgun with motor madness. He and his mystical egghead buddy, Dr. Radshak Abedni, share a dream of revolution: “the heroic overthrow of the tyranny of the vacuous.”

Rufus is founder of the Cerebral Drivers Alliance, which among other things advocates the redesign of cell phones so they function only in closets. He lives with his “Pappy”, a retired driving teacher who speaks boilerplate Newfoundlandese and culls unlikely collision reports from the newspaper headlines: Bus shelter massacre; Car kills man in barber chair; Man backs over whole family: ‘I thought they were seed potatoes.’ Pappy theorizes that these idiot drivers are “Triffids”, stuck in a monstrous vegetative state like the man-eating plants of science-fiction fame.

Dr. Abedni, himself a recovering highway terror, pronounces on the growing malaise: road rage, monster SUV's, games of chicken with cyclists and pedestrians, all are fuelled by “a whole range of lower cortex needs…..all the things that were so important to us way back when we emerged from the swamp.”

Counting the toll of human roadkill, Rufus eventually succumbs to the ultimate fit of pique, haranguing God him/herself in an extended dream, demanding to know why divine laws “make mincemeat of us.”

Messer stretches his metaphors to include everything from feminism to astrophysics. The risks don't always pay off, but the ride is uniquely engaging, full of sardonic whimsy. The book is a fervent lament for the carnage wrought by carelessness and flaring tempers—in Rufus's words, “the dork destiny trained to kill us.”

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