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literature

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Bidulka, Anthony (b. 1962)  
 
page: 1  2  3  

The psychological ante is upped considerably in Bidulka's later novels, in which the threat is often generated from within a gay person rather than directed at him or her from without.

The action of Stain of the Berry is driven by an unattractive gay man who terrorizes those who ignored and unintentionally humiliated him. The novel, which additionally investigates the way in which people allow fear to take over their lives, proves the most Hitchcockian of Bidulka's efforts.

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Humor is Russell's way of defusing tension and winning people's confidence. Russell is a chatty gay man who is 31 in the first novel, and celebrates his thirty-fifth birthday in the fifth. His interior monologues offer a running commentary on his life and work. A suspect's smile is praised as "a testament to cosmetic dentistry." Another suspect gets up from a table "faster than a towel in a bathhouse," while a dead animal is as "stiff as a fag at a Chippendales [sic] show."

When an aging womanizer, oblivious to the fact that he has stumbled onto a gay cruise ship, cautions Russell's attractive lesbian companion about the sexually predatory attentions of the single young men on board, Russell's silent comment is that "the only thing any of the randy men on this boat might want from Erall would be the sequins off her dress."

And, forced to board an African commuter plane no bigger than a crop duster, Russell indulges in a nervous riff: "I'm okay with planes but not when they weigh less than I do. I like big planes. The bigger the better. Somehow, for me, when it comes to aircraft, size does matter."

Humor, thus, is Russell's way of puncturing delusions, of deflecting what is threatening, and of humanizing what would otherwise be alien.

In each of his novels Bidulka offers a scene that effectively undermines the conventions of a genre in which human life is cheap, women are objectified, and suspense is used to provide the reader or viewer with an adrenaline thrill.

For example, Bidulka parodies the classic car chase when a terrified Russell flees across the border from South Africa to Botswana in a locally built automobile that cannot go more than 35 mph, pursued by a gunman in a similarly limited vehicle, making for a lethal chase in two putt-putt cars.

Russell nearly explodes with exasperation when he is stopped at the border to be treated to ensure that he is not inadvertently carrying hoof and mouth disease into the country. While adding to the comic incongruity of the scene, the enforced inspection unexpectedly humanizes the local farmers who, in the generic car chase, exist solely to dive for cover as the automobiles careen dangerously through their community.

Significantly, Bidulka does not hesitate to puncture Russell's own small vanities. The reader is forced to smile when Russell mentions in each novel the small refrigerator that he is inordinately proud of having incorporated into the design of his office desk.

And then there are his "famous wonderpants" that he repeatedly protests are perfect for every occasion because they never wrinkle and handsomely display his ass--but which, to his confusion, his friends forbid him to wear when going out with them. Having enjoyed a "corpulent childhood," Russell is dismayed to discover as he dresses for his thirty-fifth birthday party that his "wonderpants" have grown more tight than snug.

Russell acknowledges his own past failures when he smartly observes that "you have to get up awfully early to fool Russell Quant, PI (a second time)."

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Russell's sense of humor is part of the central impulse of Bidulka's novels: the need "to recognize the moment." Humor is a way of resisting someone else's inauthenticity, and what Russell most admires in those members of an older generation who have generously mentored him--his late gay uncle, his uncle's surviving partner, and a female neighbor named Sereena who is as imperturbable as her name--is the value of recognizing and celebrating one's deepest and truest self.

Flight of Aquavit, the second novel in the series, offers in its title a metaphor for how Russell learns to live his life. In introducing him to a Swedish aperitif that comes in multiple flavors, Sereena models for Russell the joy of accepting in its complexity the truth of one's identity and of celebrating that moment of acceptance with a friend. Russell in turn tries to teach his client--a married closeted accountant--to do the same.

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