Stripmalling is both a semi-autobiographical first novel from Winnipeg-born author Jon Paul Fiorentino and something more complex and metafictional. The hero, Jonny, is a 31-year-old aspiring writer and instructor at a “mildly respectable university” in Montreal (Fiorentino teaches at Concordia). Jonny is going through a “pre-emptive mid-life crisis” that involves writing a novel titled Stripmalling, about the time he spent working at a suburban Winnipeg mall – pumping gas, stocking shelves, and dealing drugs out of the back of his Chevette.
In addition to chasing its own tail, the book also takes itself apart, recasting the main characters in a graphic novel (illustrated by Evan Munday), the script and preliminary sketches for which are included in an appendix of “bonus materials.” Jonny’s mall story is interspersed with “mid-life crisis reports,” which are themselves corrected and reinterpreted by his ex in a series of “Dora reports” that undercut Jonny’s authority (“That obviously never happened,” one begins). Dora, in turn, has her eye on Jonny’s partner, an artist coincidentally named Evan Munday. . .
This is all very knowing and postmodern, but handled with a light comic touch, which is set in deliberate opposition to “dead ‘serious’ prose fiction.” Fiorentino’s sensibility is pure Coupland: from the Gen Y slackers alienated from nature (a Manitoba winter is dimly evoked as passing “like a slow-moving ice-type thing”) to the Morrissey constantly playing in the background. The personal and the political bleed into each other, but both are tinged with the same sense of youthful apathy and indifference. For example, the mall is bought by a Wal-Mart clone and then shut down in the face of union organization, but everyone just moves on. Jonny is bisexual, but doesn’t seem to care very much either way.
A collage-like experience, Stripmalling is a hybrid book forged out of multiple angles and perspectives. It is also a funny and clever experiment in tale-telling.