Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw
When fantasy pushes aside the lucid remonstrances of the banal, that is where you will find Michael Mirolla. He has delivered in his newest novella, The Last News Vendor, the quintessential metamorphosis of the observer to the observed and at the cutting edge of literary metaphors.
Brazen, unflinchingly creative, The Last News Vendor takes the reader on the journey of a tired writer who seeks to re-invent himself in the person of who he believes is the city's last news vendor. Step by step, the unnamed narrator casts off his current existence, his wife and children to transform himself in every way into the man he observes daily from his window: an old man with a wooden leg attempting to sell products no longer in demand to a society long since disrupted by the digital age.
The narrator's story includes a colourful cast of street people: the hungry artist, blind prophetess and android-perfect prostitute, as well as a multi-coloured cockroach, reminiscent of Kafka's Metamorphosis. His home life is challenged by the insatiable appetite of his striptease artist wife for his touch, and smoothed by the love of his two children, or are they his children? Passing through a prism etched by allusions to societal dysfunctions shaped by technology, Mirolla's novella is a study in genres: magical realism, fantasy, surrealism or perhaps a combination of all three, The Last News Vendor ensnares the reader with the confusion of shifting realities, the apprehension of absurd actions and their consequences, and, more subtly, the depiction of a society rendered illiterate by new technological distractions and threatened with replacement by artificial intelligence.
With a dozen full-length works of fiction and poetry under his belt and a half-century of writing, editing and publishing behind him, Michael Mirolla is one of the unsung warriors of Canadian literature. While his exposure as a writer is often rendered translucent by the daring experimentation of his prose, he is a preeminent shaper of intricate approaches to Canadian fiction. His is not the trope, the tug of the heart, the Harlequin-like retelling of the poor-me story. He edges around the politically correct, escaping its lasso, and does not cut to the chase, but chisels out his narratives slowly, meticulously to the delight of his fans. However, readers seeking the instant gratification of accessibility, might well find his writing simply unreadable. The Last News Vendor illustrates this dichotomy in spades.
The Last News Vendor will be published in Fall 2019 by Quattro Books.