by Nicolas Dickner

Andrea Gough, a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Washington’s ISchool (aka, Library School) sent along this recommendation:

 I’ve always had a touch of wanderlust, a need to periodically shake up my surroundings and immerse myself in the new, the different, the next state over.  As such, it’s no surprise that I felt a strong connection to the three main characters in Nicolas Dickner’s Nikolski, all wanderers in their own ways.  Noah grew up nomadically traversing the great plains of inland Canada, arriving in Montreal to study archaeology.  Joyce is the descendant of a long line of pirates, and forsakes the pull of the sea for Montreal and the new field of internet piracy.  And an unnamed third observer, a gatekeeper of a labyrinthine bookstore, mentally goes wherever the books take him.  They each navigate and set down roots in Montreal in different ways.  I love the scene where Noah is swept off his feet by the intrusion of memories of moving into his newly stable world:

Noah goes into the post office, carefree, jiggling in the palm of his hand the small change he will use to buy a stamp.  In the other hand he holds the envelope of miracles, adorned with his mother’s name, the General Delivery address in Ninga and a return address, a reassuring fixed point in the universe.

 He stops suddenly in the middle of the room, completely stunned.

The air is suffused with the aroma of the thousands of post offices scattered over the plains from Winnipeg to Calgary.  Crushed paper, elastic bands, rubber stamps.

 Noah falters.  Right at that moment he is catapulted three thousand kilometers away, thirteen years earlier.  He blinks and looks around.  What if Montreal was just one more General Delivery?  He thought he was stepping onto solid ground when he left his mother’s trailer, but now that ground is slipping out from under him.  At this point he feels nothing but rolling waves, choppy seas and dizziness.

Dickner also creates a Montreal which throbs with real life, and which would understandably draw and hold people there.  These characters move through and interact with the bustle of an expat Caribbean community, the calm quiet of a university library, even the dumpsters in the industrial district as Joyce scavenges computer parts.  Dickner’s previous work has primarily been short stories; and the three storylines here read almost like three intertwining novellas, overlapping locations and characters but rarely dwelling on intersections.  Dickner truly seems to capture the modern city, the way we connect with and move past people we may have more connection to than we realize, without ever forcing an unlikely climax.  Instead, the individual narratives ebb and flow like the sea, the prairie, the tide of trash; it is the reader who has the fun of recognizing the connections.



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One response to “Nikolski

  1. Nancy — big fan.
    I just heard you on Morning Edition talking about the line “The last good kiss I had was years ago…”
    Steve said that would be a great first line for a novel. It is a great first line for a novel: “The Last Good Kiss,” by James Crumley, one of my favorite, hard-boiled novelists.
    Thanks for being such a wonderful advocate for reading!
    Amy Dickinson
    “Ask Amy” advice columnist and author of “The Mighty Queens of Freeville” (2009, Hyperion).

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