Norman Bray in the Performance of his Life

Reviewed: August 15, 2007
By: a reading by David LeReaney / of the novel by Trevor Cole
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
3 CDs, 3 1/2 hours, $29.95

It takes a while before you realize that Norman Brayís entire life is a performance, staged mostly for an audience of one - himself. Norman fancies himself a fine stage actor, but the only gig heís had in years is as the voice of† the lead character in a cartoon called Timmy Taxi, and we meet him on the day that the producers of that show have decided to ease him out of that role. Norman is too proud, to full himself, to take a demotion to another role, too wrapped up in his own excellence, to realize that his 56 year old voice no longer hits the little boy tones needed for the show.

But Normanís whole life is like that - just one delusion after another - and now he has reached a crisis he cannot even comprehend. He stands to lose his house and is on the edge of financial ruin. More, he stands to have to face the truth about himself, about his talent, about the life he lived with his recently deceased common-law wife, Gillian - about everything he has never chosen to face.

The thing about Norman is that he is so enraptured with himself that he honestly canít comprehend that he drives other people crazy. Norman just doesnít see it that way. He sees himself as caring, cultured and worthy, even attractive to younger women. He refuses to remember anything that doesnít jibe with this self-image.

We meet Norman first in a restaurant, attempting to flirt with a waitress, failing miserably, and not really understanding why. His whole life is like that. He is about to lose his house because he neglected to keep up the mortgage payments. When the bank lends him the services of a job counsellor to try and find him some employment, Norman does everything he possibly can to avoid admitting there is a problem, and when he is placed in a perfectly good voice job for a computer company, he turns it down as beneath his dignity.

Norman has two stepchildren (sort of) Amy and David, both of whom would like to help him out, even though they donít much like him. They visit from time to time, and the possibility of Normanís eventual eviction causes Amy to sort through her motherís things and discover her journals. These lead her to question the accepted version of the story of her death and begin to dig into the facts.

Most of the story is narrated by an observant external voice who tells us all about what Norman is thinking, and dryly hints that Norman isnít a reliable observer of his own life without ever actually saying so.

There are a few sequences where we go off and spend time with Amy, while she searches for the truth, but whenever Norman is in a scene we are more or less at his shoulder. It is during Amyís investigations into her motherís death in a highway accident three yearís earlier that we learn the full truth about Normanís capacity for self-delusion, the actorís award he refers to so very often when talking with others, and just what happened to Gillian.

Trevor Coleís dryly hilarious novel was a finalist for the Governor Generalís Award and the Commonwealth Writersí Prize for Best First Book (Canada and Caribbean region) in 2004 when it first appeared and has been nicely abridged for this reading, in which David LeReaney gives the kind of performance that Norman only thinks he can give.

Despite Normanís shallow disregard for everyone around him, we come to like him. He is almost a Don Quixote-like figure in his complete inability to face reality on its own terms. Ironically, Norman thinks the Knight of the Woeful Countenance was his best ever role on the stage. In that vein, he even tries to rescue the Central American damsel in distress across the street who is having trouble with her husband- and thereís just a hint at the end of the story that actually feeling something for her that isnít self-centered may set him on the right road at last, as unlikely as that may seem.

Read or listen to it yourself and see what you think.