Ultimately this novel leads readers to a place where love, loss, and melancholy intermingle with gratitude, remembrance, and celebration.
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)
Hazel Jane Plante (Metonymy Press)
$18.95 | 188pp
Loss can shock and unglue us, and our single-syllable reaction — grief — takes on many faces: denial, anger, emptiness.
There’s self-medicating in the form of distraction too: Cheryl Strayed took a solitary, ill-planned hike; Helen Macdonald opted to train an ornery goshawk. (And wrote celebrated memoirs about the experiences: Wild and H is for Hawk).
Loss, grief, and moving on are at the heart of Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian), Hazel Jane Plante’s striking debut novel.
Still, Plante has chosen an invitingly unusual shape for the tale that’s evident from the first sentence: “This book is about Little Blue, a television series that’s adored by a small cluster of people.”
Wholly invented, this “enigmatic, flawed, and well-loved” TV series filmed off the southwest coast of B.C. and consisting of two handfuls of episodes, is the subject of the novel narrator’s encyclopedia, which runs from A (Captain Alphonse) to Z (Lucas Zito).
Its goal: to explain and analyze the program’s characters (including Dimple, a calico cat, and a racing pigeon named Ringo) as they squabble, scheme, drink, love, hate, and get by on Little Blue Island.
The brainchild of an eccentric and divisive auteur, produced by a highbrow but short-lived HBO-aping network, Little Blue’s the subject of dismissive critics, spiteful actor interviews, and hairsplitting blogs and ‘zines. When broadcast, it featured dozens of cast members, such as Mr. Bits, a “charismatic, alcoholic high school English teacher,” and Whompy, a ventriloquist’s dummy prone to mouthing unfiltered truths.
As measured by its organization, Plante’s novel largely offers a fan’s enthusiastic account of the minutia of a television program that does not exist. (I pictured it as a splice of Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Rainer Werner Fassbinder … and SpongeBob.)
After a preface, the novel’s encyclopedia begins with an A (below an illustration of an armadillo). On the final page: a Z beneath a drawing of the front cover of Slippery City, an imaginary Britpop fanzine.
Turns out, the encyclopedia is a passion project for an unnamed and deeply saddened narrator, who’s taken a leave from a graduate program in journalism following the sudden death of Viv, an intimate friend. Like the cult TV show, the narrator’s friend and mentor was “enigmatic, flawed, and well-loved.”
The narrator is never named and the cause of Viv’s death is never disclosed. (“We aren’t defined by how we happen to die,” the narrator writes.)
As a result, entries A though Z begin with TV characters but soon draw readers toward Viv and the narrator’s complex friendship. Viv’s sex-positive and largely joyful embrace of being transgender offered a pathway for the narrator, who struggled with a similar transition.
The upbeat outlook is likewise reflected in the narrator framing of Viv’s demise: rather than “reading the names of trans folks and how they were killed,” the narrator seeks to know “who they were, how they lived, and who and what they loved in this world.”
With the novel’s A-Z, Plante takes readers down a deep rabbit hole. Ultimately, it leads us to a place where love, loss, and melancholy intermingle with gratitude, remembrance, and celebration.
“I owe you a eulogy,” the narrator writes, and the encyclopedia project is touching tribute to a life snuffed out too soon.
• Join Hazel Jane Plante for the hometown launch Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) on Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. at Massy Books, 229 E Georgia St. The event is free.
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