October 22, 2012
Heidegger Stairwell by Kayt Burgess
I loved Heidegger Stairwell, a novel by Kayt Burgess, which seems to be an excellent companion to Sophie B. Watson’s Cadillac Couches, another CanLit musical ode which I recently read. Both are about musical fandom and friendship, with cross-Canada road trips thrown in for good measure. Burgess’ novel is structured as a work-in-progress, a tell-all book by music journalist Evan Strocker about his long relationship with the world-famous Canadian band Heidegger Stairwell, though he’s a little too close to his subject, as suggested by editorial notes from the band which are scattered throughout the manuscript (“No one had an STD. We are talking about something different. I told Evan that.–Coco”). Evan takes the band from their humble beginnings in a thinly veiled Elliott Lake ON–charismatic figures and musical prodigies colliding in high school hallways– to regional stardom, eventual breakup, and then reunion after their six-song EP becomes an underground sensation. It soon becomes clear (or at least Evan would like us to think so) that Heidegger Stairwell would not exist without Evan Strocker’s orchestrations, and we begin to understand that the band itself only exists to give Strocker’s universe coherence and his life some meaning.
I’ve never encountered a character like Evan Strocker in fiction before, a transgender man and an abashedly serious shit-disturber. Growing up in small-town Ontario as Evie, he fit in nowhere except with the band. He started off dating their drummer as a young teenager, and then became embroiled in torrid and/or complicated romances with most of the other band members as time went by. He’s not a protagonist who’s crying out to be liked, or perhaps it’s that he really is, but he has no idea how to go about making it happen.
Heidegger Stairwell was the 2011 winner of the 3 Day Novel contest, and while I thought that last year’s winner was a fun, cute read that was pretty good for a winner of the 3 Day Novel contest, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this year’s is just really good full stop. Burgess comes with university degrees with classical music and creative writing, so she knows what she’s doing here. And it doesn’t really matter how long it took her to do it; she’s created a novel that’s outside of ordinary.