A Theory of Everything
by Marisa De Franceschi
Ricci skilfully encourages the reader to turn the page in order to get to the bottom of this man, who seems to have been bestowed with equal amounts of vice and virtue. The author doles out tidbits that tantalize and we continue to look for answers, much as Alex himself does. All along, the same Alex who often seems confused in purpose, has a imaginary running conversation with Peter Gzowski of CBC radio fame. At one point he says, “It’s curious, isn’t it? You go along all your life, expecting some plan will show itself, then you find out there isn’t one. That it’s just one damn thing after another. I suppose it’s a little like evolution, when you think of it, Peter. Some things work, some don’t. Natural selection.”
When Alex gets to the Galapagos, we are ready to ingest and digest the meaning of the fictitious conversation above – fictitious in the sense that it did not take place with Peter, but it did take place: it was Alex talking to Alex.
The part of the story set in the Galapagos brings to mind Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and Martel’s Life of Pi. But Ricci’s account is deeper, more complex. As we follow Alex on this most unusual voyage of discovery, we too are on a voyage full of tempests and fears. We too have to ride out the storms with Alex and his two travel companions – who are among the most unsavoury and onerous characters one can imagine.
Amid Alex’s failed relationships and a traumatic and life-altering voyage to Darwin’s Galapagos, Ricci also finds time and space for political issues. Throughout the novel, Ricci takes us back to the eighties and Pierre Trudeau, the Quebec question, the war in El Salvador and Chernobyl, among other historical events.
Ricci’s Origin of Species is not a book that can be read lightly, and Ricci’s work is never an easy read – you do not go there to escape. Instead, you go there to plunge into the frail yet complicated and convoluted circumstances of life and realize when you come up gasping for air, humbled by the experience, that you will be a little more savvy having taken the risk as a reader.
Marisa De Franceschi is a writer and teacher from Windsor, Ontario. She is the author of Surface Tension and editor of Pillars of Lace, an anthology of Italian Canadian women writers.
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