An Excerpt from Lee Henderson’s Introduction to Death Goes Better with Coca-cola
Lee Henderson is the author of the novels The Man Game and The Road Narrows As You Go and the short story collection The Broken Record Technique. He lives in Victoria, B.C., and teaches creative writing at UVic. He leant his talents to the forthcoming A-List edition of Death Goes Better with Coca-Cola. Read an excerpt from his introduction below.
Death Goes Better With Coca-Cola is an unsettling title. For a debut collection of stories, it calls to mind a sweet, effervescent finale. This is Dave Godfrey’s first book, and only the fourth published under the House of Anansi imprint he co-founded with Dennis Lee. They launched House of Anansi in 1967 to publish poetry — Dennis Lee’s — and Godfrey’s own prose certainly shares a poet’s sensibility. He’s able to amplify through compression, and create vital, urgent life out of rich language and pitch-perfect voice. Rooted in image, digressive in approach, often these narratives progress through unexpected sidetracks. Not every sentence follows the path laid out for it in the sentence before. But in every piece, the writing pulls you along. The stories reveal themselves in peripheral vision. Eventually ideas and images all join, but in the meantime, the language is breathtaking.
The story “Mud Lake: If Any” begins: “Death, too, I think at times, is just another one of our match box toys.”
This from a man said to be at least three people in one, “and all larger than life,” according to Dennis Lee. This from a book about hunting for food, hunting for sport, fishing, drinking, killing, about the Vietnam War, about music, addiction, loneliness, and love. A book about death that downplays death. A book about death levelling death to a universal meaninglessness. As if death resounds no louder than the pop of a carbonated bubble.
I start to think it’s true, the grand scheme of things wipes us all away. The universe is infinite and fourteen billion years old and reading, writing, and arithmetic were invented in Iraq five thousand years ago . . . and yet we each deserve our tetchy little time on Earth. It’s not death, time flattens us. Even the infinite universe has an age. At first I thought Godfrey was being sort of blithely ironic throwing away his title on a poppy line like that, but the more I thought about it, especially in relation to the I ching hexagram readings that begin each story, the more the title seems level-headed. Funny, a bit ironic, but still true.
Originally published in 1967, Dave Godfrey’s debut collection features stories about hunting — in Florida, in Africa, and in northern Ontario. They are about the interplay of gun and subway, decoy and stock market, guide and draft dodger. But they are more than just stories about hunting. Death Goes Better with Coca-Cola is a powerful example of the idiosyncratic imagination of a writer who broke new ground in fiction. It is a seminal collection by one of Canada’s most influential literary figures and it is a must-read for those who want to understand Canada’s literary landscape, past and present.