Hockey, beer, and masturbation figure prominently in the life of 41-year-old Derek, the St. John’s resident who serves as the protagonist of Jamie Fitzpatrick’s funny and melancholy debut novel. While these three activities keep Derek’s hands busy, they also help distract him from the fact his girlfriend has left him for a job in Ottawa and his deejay father is about to have his adulterous past laid bare in a courtroom.
Derek suffers from groin problems, the result of too much hockey and a battle with gonorrhea, which his girlfriend, Nicole, explains she contracted before she met him. In one sense, though, Derek’s tender testicles serve as a testament to the impotence he feels about his own life. He needs to escape St. John’s but is unable or unwilling to take the necessary action. He is confused about the lineage of his older half-brother, Curtis, and generally embarrassed by his “whoring scumbag” dad.
Fitzpatrick nicely captures the creeping mortality of Derek and his fellow beer leaguers: liberated on the ice, they are nevertheless trapped in a kind of nostalgia, trying to reclaim something – innocence? freedom? youth? – they may never have fully understood or truly experienced in the first place. When a local CBC reporter chronicles the team, it touches off a debate about authenticity that allows Fitzpatrick to engage in bang-on, laugh out loud renditions of the bellicose Don Cherry, didactic women’s studies scholars, and grandiose politicians.
As a storyteller, Fitzpatrick has a keen eye, choosing just the right details to lend his tale poignancy. On returning to town and seeing Derek’s bachelor pad, the overly pious Curtis “cast an eye around the living room and formed his sympathetic smile.… He used it on everyone and everything, sometimes opening his arms in a gesture of tolerance. There was disapproval in it, like an aftertaste.” Smart dialogue and well-drawn characters make Fitzpatrick’s study of the things we say, the things we don’t say, and the confusion and misunderstanding in between simultaneously funny and painfully accurate.