As much as I love being swept away to an exotic location by a piece of fiction, This Location of Unknown Possibilities, Brett Josef Grubisic’s second novel, delights in keeping me close to home.
With Vancouver and Penticton as twin backdrops, Grubisic peppers the story with sufficient local detail to leave me feeling conspicuously voyeuristic.
Like Marta Spëk, Grubisic’s main character, I know exactly what the overheated 99 B-line bus feels like at 4:30pm on an early March afternoon — humid and teeming. And like Jake Nugent, the industry-weary film director and Grubisic’s secondary lead, I know enough about attempting online hookups in the Okanagan to question its title as Canada’s Fruit Basket.
While education, career path, surroundings — seemingly everything in the lives of these two characters — set them in opposition to each other, each is fully and honestly realized in Grubisic’s telling of their tales.
“I wanted to try out a little self-exploration,” he explains. “Writers are saddled with the reputation of being narcissists, after all, and both Jake and Marta stand for parts of myself, though hugely exaggerated. Marta’s absurd bookishness, alienation and primness . . . they’re mine stretched almost beyond recognition. Ditto for Jake’s total arrogance and the sexual adventurer persona.
“Ultimately, Jake made far more sense as a film industry A-type,” he says. “If I’d made him a sexually voracious professor, I’d have never believed it. Arrogant, yes. A bisexual scholar cruising bars and sex clubs? Not a chance.”
When Marta is lifted from her chronic professorial doldrums by an unforeseeable job opportunity — to take her esoteric knowledge of a little-known character from the fringes of English lit and be crowned with the dubious title of film consultant — she begins to imagine a form of recognition not offered in the ivy-clad towers of Academia.
But as the biopic of the iconoclastic Lady Hester Stanhope morphs into a made-for-TV historical science-fiction fantasy mashup — complete with saucy maids and stranded aliens — Marta’s real provocation comes from a wholly unexpected source.
For Jake, expert negotiation of naked-torso-riddled sex sites proves to be less, well, fruitful in the arid Okanagan. Not to mention the arid desert of his internal life.
By placing these two journeys in close and threatening proximity, Grubisic creates a dynamic energy that vibrates through the book, urging us to the end.
“Both wind up with something new and better in their lives,” he says, “but neither would have chosen it. Fate intervened. That seems to be the way the universe operates from time to time.”