Headhunter

Timothy Findley, Author Crown Publishers $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-517-59827-6
Overlong and overwrought, yet compelling and powerful, Findley's ambitious chronicle of a society gone amok with greed, depravity and moral emptiness is sometimes maddeningly diffuse but always intriguing. The setting is a slightly futuristic Toronto, a city in the grip of an epidemic called sturnusemia, purportedly carried by starlings, who are being exterminated by death squads using a lethal spray. AIDS has run rampant; art, music and literature have become decadent. In this surreal landscape, Lilah Kemp, a former librarian suffering from schizophrenia, has ``inadvertently set Kurtz free from page 92 of Heart of Darkness. '' Rupert Kurtz, the latter-day incarnation of Conrad's epitome of evil, runs the city's leading psychiatric hospital. Brilliant but demented, Kurtz is secretly conducting drug experiments at his clinic, and he is also a member of the Club of Men, pornographers who do unspeakable things to children. Since his clients and co-conspirators all come from the wealthy and powerful segment of Toronto society (which Findley portrays with acidulous satire), Kurtz seems to be indestructible. But then, as he must, Marlow arrives: psychiatrist Charlie Marlow comes to the institute and finally vanquishes Kurtz once again. An hallucinatory, menacing tone permeates this complex tale. Some passages are brilliant, glittering with insights, while others bear the marks of haste and melodramatic excess. There are a stupefying number of characters and subplots. On the other hand, Findley ( Famous Last Words ) creates witty literary allusions: one character is a contemporary Emma Bovary; another is named Jay Gatz. His subtext is the power of literature: ``We write each other's lives--by means of fictions . . . This way we point the way to darkness--saying: come with me into the light.'' Despite its many faults, the novel (a bestseller in Canada) is empowered by anger; it is a stirring indictment of the amorality that Findley sees as the plague that will usher out the 20th century. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/1994
Release date: 03/01/1994
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