Portrait of Evan Solomon as a thirty-one-year-old novelist

(Big shout-out to Linda Richards at January Magazine. She went into her files and turned up an interview she did back in the day with Evan Solomon. Made me think, gee, in 1999, I spun a yarn myself when I was working as a literary journalist and Solomon published a novel called Crossing the Distance. Does it shed any light?. Voila, thanks to the wonders of the digital universe, you can judge for yourself.)

Evan Solmon heard two conflicting voices in his
head. He was travelling by bus, a 26-hour journey, between
Katmandu and Darjeeling. The year was 1992. Solomon was 24 years old and he’d
recently done some volunteering at Mother Theresa’s mission in Calcutta:
“Grunt work. Anybody could do it.”

There, Solomon met people, he said this week [May 15],
“who’d dedicated their whole lives to helping others. I knew I’d never be
able to spend my life that way. But the experience kicked off an internal

Hence, the two voices — that of an overzealous
relief worker and a too-detached observer. In Solomon’s impressive first novel, Crossing the
, the two have become flesh-and-blood adversaries — and brothers. The
one has gone beyond self-righteousness into bloody-minded activism; the other
beyond detachment into callousness.

As a radical environmentalist, the first brother,
Theo, causes the death of a logger in B.C. The second brother, Jake Jacobson,
is reminiscent of Jerry Springer — a TV personality who hosts a
sensationalistic talk show called The Jake Connections. He’s also the novel’s
main narrator. And as the story begins, he discovers his girl friend, a
celebrity author, shot in the head and bleeding to death.

Jake provides Solomon with an entry into the world
of network television, and the author makes the most of it. He paints a broad-
strokes portrait of shameless, shallow and exploitive media types ready to
abandon any principle, exploit any tragedy or betray any relationship if such
action will move them up the careerist grease pole.

Solomon lays on it on a bit thick — oh, these
people are despicable — yet includes enough authentic detail that the
characters and melodramatic narrative become almost believable. But, hey, this
is satire, after all: the characters are meant to be overblown. The Toronto-based Solomon, who co-founded and edited
Shift magazine, comes by his vision honestly. He has worked for almost five
years as a CBC-TV NewsWorld host — first of Future World, lately of Hot Type.

And before that? Born and raised in Toronto, Solomon
attended McGill University in Montreal, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in
English and religious studies, and a master’s in religious studies, focusing on
myth and ritual. He also wrote short stories, acted and had three
plays produced. After graduation, Solomon and a friend co-founded
Shift — ” we wanted to be part of the storytelling culture” —
originally as a quarterly.

Solomon then went travelling for a year, mostly in
Asia, though he continued to serve as a long-distance editor. Back in Toronto,
he turned Shift into a monthly, landed his first TV job and turned his
attention to articulating and dramatizing the internal debate that had begun in

Solomon doesn’t see his take on TV as being entirely
dark, and he refuses to apologize for writing serious fiction while working in
television. “We live in a culture that doesn’t support writers,” he
said over lunch. “Writers have to make a living somehow.”

Not incidentally, the TV milieu in which he earns
his daily bread also provided relatively fresh material for this ambitious
novel — the fast-paced, urban lives of nasty people on the make.

Solomon sees Crossing The Distance as “a
redemption story — not like in Hollywood, but redemption the way a river runs,
meandering like a choked-up creek. There’s no Niagara Falls at the end of
it.” What Solomon is driving at, without giving away the
plot, is that Jake moves from being the quintessential witness, and nothing
else, to becoming “the author of his own life.”

And, surprise, the narrator has already announced
this theme on the first page of the novel: “Betrayal isn’t something you
choose, it’s something that chooses you. I know that more than ever now,
especially when I think about the events that came together to destroy the
people I love. Of course, my memory of things is different from that of the
police or the newspaper reporters or the producers making a movie of the week;
that’s no surprise. We’re all spinning out versions of the truth until the
facts disappear and everything becomes a matter of belief.”

There’s authority in that opening. And, in
everything that follows, a seriousness of purpose, as well as an obvious
willingness and ability to wrestle with large themes. Solomon hasn’t written a great novel here. But he’s
31 years old. And he’s announced his arrival with panache. This is no one-book
author. Solomon’s here to make a mark.

– Crossing the Distance, by Evan Solomon (M&S,
373 pages, $30).


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