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Bookends: What’s in a Name, Anyway? July 5, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: What’s in a Name, Anyway?
By Dan Davidson
March 28, 2012
– 874 words –

Flam Grub
By Dan Dowhal
Blue Butterfly Books
368 pages

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” says Juliet, after she realizes that the young man who has captured her heart is, in fact, the son of her family’s bitter enemies.
It’s not true, of course. If it were, Canola would still be called Rapeseed, and ESSO would never have changed its name to EXXON in order to take advantage of the similarity to the name of the then very popular US President, Richard Nixon.
For that matter, if my father had had his way my first name would have been David, and I think that would have been very confusing. My mother thought so too, and put her foot down.
You’d never convince the central character of Dan Dowhal’s first novel (second published, but first written) that names do not matter. Nor would you have been able to convince his mother, who was responsible for saddling him with that moniker.
She was Mary Flam, you see, and pretty much the last of the Flam line. She wanted to preserve the family name, but her ill chosen husband, Steve Grub, would not hear of letting her keep her own name after they were married, so she took her last name and christened her son with it.
Flam Grub. The potential for public school hell wrapped up in a name like that is almost beyond belief.  The litany of taunts included Grubby, Flam Chop, Grub-a-dub-dub, Flim-Flam Man and many others.
Add to it a home life poisoned by an abusive father and a mother who diverts most of her better urges into the service of the Church and Flam grows up an introverted, insecure child who is at ease only when he is surrounded by, and immersed in, the pages of books.
It helps a lot that the Grubs live in a flat above Turner’s Bookstore, owned by a man with the delightfully appropriate name of Page Turner. Though he was once banned from the store by his father, once Grub senior has met his end in an industrial accident, the store becomes Flam’s refuge and the site of his first gainful employment.
Bookstore clerk is not his long-term goal however. Flam decides that he wants to become an undertaker and enrolls in a community college course to study that trade.
Despite the claims of his abusive father, Flam is happily heterosexual, or would be, if he could manage to get anywhere at all with the fair sex. He is handicapped by his shyness, his name, his shabby clothes, and perhaps by all the literature that he has absorbed over the years. He’s a great romantic and fantasizes about three women in particular: one that he meets in a poetry class; another, older woman, that he meets in a class on comparative religion; a third that he sort of meets on the bus to work every day.
For he does, indeed, manage to score a job at a mortuary, though he eventually discovers that he only got it to begin with because his mother’s policeman friend leaned on a few people on his behalf. He is a long time finding out why everyone at Morton’s Funeral Home seems to resent his presence, and why the number two man there, Bruno Helman, rides him particularly hard.
It is, however, Flam who is able to fix the office computers and while doing so discovers the misdeeds of a couple of lowlife employees of the firm. He also figures out how to treat them to the fate they deserve and salvage the reputation of Charlie, his only ally at the firm.
Along the way, as a sort of therapy, Flam had begun working out some of his frustrations by writing poetry. He composes verses for two of the women who interest him, and also writes some lyrics for Charlie’s jazz band. Most importantly, he writes a long poem for “The Girl on the Bus”, and that has a major impact on the turn his life takes near the end of the book.
Around the same time that he meets Angela, the New Age Wiccan/Stripper (though he doesn’t know about the last part until later) during his comparative religion studies, he also meets Joe Schneider, an elderly Jewish gentleman with a fascinating life story. When Joe dies his will insists that it is Flam who should handle his funeral arrangements. That is the first of a number of important connections that help to improve Flam’s life.
If I say much more I will give away too much. Readers will, I think, find echoes of Charles Dickens and John Irving in the way that this man’s life story is told. The narrator is clearly present in the background of the story, giving us little nudges and comments from time to time, but not in any sort of an annoying way.
Dowhal was at Berton House this last winter and is returning within a week or two to do a community tour for the Public Library Branch as part of the Yukon Writers’ Festival.




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