Stalled cyber roadtrip

By Ruth Davenport

A reviewer of Hal Niedzviecki writes that Ditch is a "rich and strange book." A statement that is nearly right.

The truth is, Ditch is a poor and strange book. Described by the author as "part love story, part road trip, part cyberthriller," Ditch is a fragmented tale written in the neo-abstract style so popular among young urban writers. Ditch contains minimal dialogue and skips from perspective to perspective, resulting in the disjointed tale of a no-good, deadbeat socially-inept 23-year-old who lives with his mother.

The loser, aptly named Ditch, rents the upstairs apartment of his and his mother’s house to a vagrant known as Debs. Through intermittent chapters consisting of e-mails sent by Debs, the reader becomes aware that Debs is running from something and trying to contact her father. There is something strange about this father, first demonstrated when Debs contacts him by taking pornographic pictures of herself in a bathtub and posting them on the internet. Predictably, Ditch, a virgin, falls "in love" with Debs and agrees to accompany her to the U.S. to find her father. 

At this point, the story falls apart, skipping backwards and forwards in time, describing events which are clearly meant to have some relation to each other, trying hard to be artistically ambiguous but not succeeding. Quentin Tarantino pulled it off in Pulp Fiction; Niedzviecki just comes up short. The failure spells an impressive death for Ditch.

The language used to write Ditch contributes to its failure.  Again, the author’s intent to create an oppressive, raw ambience for the reader is clear, but rather than come up short on this point, Niedzievicki grossly overdoes it. Though most people would agree that Toronto–the setting of the novel–is the locale by which the universe would receive an enema, everything, according to Niedzievicki, "stinks," "decays," "slimes," "decomposes," is "bitter," "foul," "rank" or "rancid." If the sun shines, it blinds the characters with a "washed-out concrete yellow."

The smell of shit, semen, bourbon and piss play a starring role next to Niedzviecki’s characters who engage in every single repulsive social habit known to man, including not showering or changing their clothes ever, pissing through their clothes, beating off in someone else’s shower, staring at young catholic girls in their kilts, picking their nose and wiping the boogers on a counter, eating with their mouth open and drooling their food down their chin onto their clothes, and not washing their hands after using the bathroom. 

While Niedzviecki possesses an undeniable command of the language and a certain quirky gift for metaphor, these touches are overshadowed by his attempts to show them off. Ditch is a valiant attempt at a writing style perfected by more established writers, but lacks finesse. Once Niedzviecki reins in his heavy hand and begins to carve–rather than sledgehammer–a niche for himself, his works will likely be very enjoyable and will acheive the mystique and intrigue he attempts with this book. Alas, Ditch will have to be chalked up to experience as one of the failures on the road to success.

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