Wallace Uses Plot and Humour for Terrific First Novel
by Michael Sobota
July 23, 2022
British Columbia writer David M. Wallace, now living in Montreal, has written his first novel about a British Columbian actor and teacher, now living in Montreal. The central character in Wallace’s winning first novel is Lyle Spencer, recognized by all his friends and new acquaintances simply as Spence. Having been forced out of his job as a theatre teacher in a Catholic high school in Victoria, Spence is at a turning point in his career and his life. He liked teaching, loved his students and they him, was supported in his work by his friend, JF, the principal at his school until JF had a heart attack and the new principal eliminated theatre arts. His wife is dead. So with some sadness but also hope Spence turns east and makes his way to Montreal to be with his adult daughter Clara and her fiancee, Gabriel. Though he is unaware at the time, this is the beginning of a deepening sadness for Spence.
He is in Montreal for just a short time when his daughter announces she and her fiance are going off to France to meet his relatives, as a preamble to getting married. Spence becomes isolated, alone in a city he knows little about and a culture and language with witch he is unfamiliar. He enrols in weekly French language classes while promising his daughter he will “water the plants” in her apartment while she is gone.
Then Spence meets Thierry, a native Montrealer. And Wallace’s narrative transforms itself into a buddy journey. In mood and character, Spence and Thierry are opposites. Thierry is foul mouthed, inquisitive, adventurous, prone to roaming widely and sexually active. Spence is a converted Catholic, lonely, skeptical about almost all adventures but is drawn into petty crimes and misdemeanors by Thierry.
In Wallace’s skillful plotting, Spence is headed for a break down and possible breakthrough. In judicious flashbacks, we learn Spence’s family history and early life as boy, teacher, husband and eventual father. All of this is deeply enmeshed in an examination of Catholicism, its liturgy and its iconography within Montreal.
Spence and Thierry’s hi-jinks are loaded with humour and pathos, sometimes explosively. Wallace keeps the pace moving rapidly with mild speed bumps provided by switching between English and French (brief) narration. Wallace pushes the character of Spence through increasingly bizzare behaviours until, inevitably, he has a break down. The concluding chapters are anticlimactic and border on cliche, as Spence finds a newer and more practical way to move in his adult world.
The Little Brudders of Misericorde is a fine read and a terrific first novel. Wallace, the author, was recently in Thunder Bay. He was on a cross-country bicycling tour to promote his book. Enroute from Montreal to Victoria, he dropped in to Entershine Bookshop, signed some copies of his novel, and continued on his journey. That’s were I found his book. Highly recommended.