Review: The Traymore Rooms by Norm Sibum
Biblioasis | October 2013 | Reviewed by Alex Whelan
Norm Sibum’s The Traymore Rooms, as much as any novel or collection of characters, is a story of human communication: that peculiar and necessary epidemic of our species that refers to both how we impart information unto others as well as the degree to which these attempts at communication are reflections of our own fallible humanity. This distinction between human communication and “human” communication is the punning duality that Sibum seems to chase for the first six hundred or so pages of his 700-page novel. Picking up where Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit left off seventy years prior, The Traymore Rooms documents the hellish friendship/codependency existing between a crew of American expats and Canadian intellectuals all living in the same upper-middle-class apartment complex in Montreal. Narrator Randall Q. Calhoun (“RQC”) and company languish away the days either in someone’s living room or the bar downstairs as they talk about American politics and Greco-Roman art. At times, Traymore smacks of an exceptionally erudite episode of Cheers where everybody knows both everybody’s name and the full text of Virgil’s Eclogues.
Ultimately, the hangout vibe of Sibum’s novel comes courtesy of one of the more compelling Everymen in twenty-first-century American literature. Because Calhoun—sexagenarian trust-fund baby that he is—has all the time in the world and nothing at all to do, Sibum can afford to spend upwards of pages on ornate discussions of art and language. Even the novel’s frustrating predilection with Calhoun “boffing” every single female character winds up as pretense for Sibum to wax prosodic on the absurdity of the patriarchy.
One of the central charms of The Traymore Rooms is that it’s clearly a novel written by a born poet. In Calhoun’s voice, Sibum offers a brief insight to his writing process for Traymore: “It is said the novelist requires a world; the poet makes do with a patch of grass.” The sheer magnitude of ideas in the novel makes it clear Sibum can tend his patch of grass, and the majority of Sibum’s bibliography—including the work that’s earned him accolades and renown in Canada—is, in fact, poetry. With this in mind, the genius of Traymore lies in what the author does when given the keys to his very own world. Apropos to the sprawl and irregularity of its narrative, at various points in The Traymore Rooms might be said to embody any number of literary styles: there is the Restoration sex comedy of the Traymoreans’s cuckoldry, the paranoid conspiratorial satire of Thomas Pynchon, the Hemingway-like elegy for younger and better days. In the novel’s most spry and daring sections, the author crafts a kind of decoupage of style and intertextuality that makes for a hysterically realist journey every bit as thrilling as Sibum’s more lauded contemporaries.
None of Traymore’s zeal would land, however, if not for the truth at the center of the novel: Calhoun’s—and Sibum’s—genuine, unashamed love for his friends. In the great tradition of Nick Carraways marveling quietly upon their Gatsbys, Calhoun seems well aware that he’s no match for the company that he keeps. Thanks to Calhoun’s penchant for alone time, Traymore’s cast features nearly as many ghosts as living Traymoreans, from Calhoun’s deceased and idealized lovers to Fast Eddy, a mysterious figure whose novel-opening anecdote about being smacked in the face by a sparrow is only further discombobulated when Calhoun tells us Fast Eddy will be dead by the next chapter. Sure enough, his heart explodes, but Fast Eddy lingers incessantly through every section of the novel as an eerie reminder of how he described his run-in with the bird: “Two solid objects cannot, at one and the same time, inhabit the same space, unless one is to speak of hand-to-hand combat or acts of passion.” For Traymore’s protagonist, there is no prospect more horrifying than not occupying himself with fellow Traymoreans from sun-up to sundown.
For all Sibum’s screwball genre-hopping and erratic plotting, he absolutely nails Calhoun’s acceptance of time and its ephemera that finally comes in the book’s final hundred pages or so. New Presidents are elected, casual trysts give way to engagements, and the elderly demigods who hold court in the Traymore Rooms gradually concede to the mortality they’d hoped they’d outlived. For these very reasons, The Traymore Rooms succeeds where other ambitiously sized hangout novels do not—it is about being a wordsmith as much as a worldsmith.
For more information, please visit Biblioasis’s website.
The Traymore Rooms
Posted: Mar 18, 2015
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- Seriously, Just Go to Sleep
- What Is Punk?
- Hello Sunshine
- The Bear Who Wasn’t There: And the Fabulous Forest
- The Plot Against Hip Hop
- HNIC (limited edition signed package)
- The Accidental Hunter
- Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith
- The Worst Breakfast
- Censorship Now!! (LIMITED SIGNED HARDCOVER EDITION)
- Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of Les Claypool
- Seriously, You Have to Eat