Combat Camera

Biblioasis has announced the winner of this year’s Metcalf-Rooke Award. The prize, given annually to the best unpublished work of fiction by a new writer, goes to A. J. Somerset for his novel Combat Camera.

Combat Camera … concerns Lucas Zane, a celebrated photographer who has burned out emotionally after covering battles in most of the wars of the late twentieth century. He has come to the end in Toronto, drunk, hallucinatory, all ambition fled. He earns the rent by taking photographs for Richard Barker, an impresario of shoestring-budget pornographic movies. On the set he meets “Melissa” and the novel explores their involvement. Zane tries to make a comeback by constructing a photo-essay about “Melissa’s” life, a stripper and porn-chick utterly lacking a heart of gold. Zane’s reflections on camera angles, available light, film stock and shutter speeds — all the by now obsolete technology of his years of fame — form a hymn to the beauty of art. Though Zane himself would deny that. But the power of the book lies in its voice, a voice that is restless, ceaseless, meandering, tragic, sometimes very funny, a mind and voice that maintain an almost hypnotic grip on the reader.

I’m sure you’d like a nice, pat explanation for my life. Something to tie up all the loose ends: I left it all behind after witnessing unspeakable horrors, etcetera, that left me reduced to a whiskey-soaked shell. You’d like to think you’re in some tale of sin and redemption. I guess we all like to think we’re walking through some grand, redemptive story. Well, we’re all going to be disappointed. Disappointment is one of the two fates that we must all eventually meet.

I ran out of horror a long time ago. You start with conviction, and then you just end up sad. You know you aren’t going to stop anything. You’ll be off to cover another war tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and the day after that until you retire, until you just give up and leave the job to the next quixote. You realize that all the things you thought and believed were all bullshit. You just get tired out, and you can’t feel anything anymore but a kind of distant sadness.

God looks down on his children and shakes his head. Free will, he thinks — what was I smoking when I came up with that one? You drop one tab of acid, eight days later you got snakes in the Garden of Eden.