Knife Party at the Hotel Europa is another shining edition to the 2015-2016 Lorenzo Reading Series. The short story collection will leave readers snickering, but incite a pondering some of life’s most important questions, such as: “can you bring your staple gun to heaven?”, “will Tom Hanks ever make a good movie?” and, my personal favourite: “Does the Pope even own pants?”
Written by UNB Fredericton professor Mark Anthony Jarman, Knife Party at the Hotel Europa is a collection of interconnected short stories all told from the perspective of a nameless protagonist, in the midst of a divorce.
Rather than stay home and dwell in his unhappiness, he does what we all wish we could do: he jumps on a plane to Italy to avoid his problems entirely. Well, almost entirely. There is still the issue of him being hopelessly in love with Natasha, the Russian beauty who left him in the dust, and his struggle with growing older.
If we can’t all have the pleasure of flying off to sunny Italy and indulging in the finer things in life, Knife Party at the Hotel Europa gives us the next best thing: an all-inclusive mental trip through Rome and other Italian cities, all for the low, low price of just $29.95 (hardcover).
The book vividly captures the essence of Italian culture, from mouth-wateringly detailed depictions of the cuisine, to descriptions of art museums, landmarks, and the types of people one would encounter on such a trip. Jarman leaves nothing out; the reader feels like they are experiencing the trip right alongside the protagonist.
“A lot of it is based upon my own travels,” Jarman told CBC Radio back in March of 2015, when the book came out, “I did a trip to Italy and I thought, ‘ooh, this place is amazing! I want to write about this’.”
Yet, the most fascinating thing about this book is how it is written. It isn’t an easy narrative that takes you from point A to point B, like most novels and short stories do; on the contrary, Knife Party at the Hotel Europa bounces all over the place.
One section is about the protagonist’s time in a Roman market with his cousin Eve, and a few pages later, about the time he saw a butterfly while skiing at a Canadian lodge. It’s almost as if the reader is getting a genuine glimpse into how the protagonist’s brain works: random memories scattered here and there, with intruding thoughts popping up every now and again in the form of a question–nonsensical questions that all readers can relate to.
This scattered pattern can be a bit confusing for the first few pages of the book, but once there is a grasp the main characters, powering through Knife Party at the Hotel Europa is both a breeze and tremendously entertaining.
What I couldn’t get over, though, is how much the book can make the reader think. One moment a line like, “In the Roman night someone is insisting over and over that she is not a hollaback girl” induces laughter, and then a few sentences down Jarman throws a curveball like, “Can love be both madness and a haven?” Can it? Can it?
I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but Knife Party at the Hotel Europa certainly has an interesting way of making the reader wonder about things.
But among all of the Italian culture and life questions, there is one major theme in the book: the concept of youth. “Can only the young be youthful?” seems to be what the book is asking as the protagonist works through a difficult transition, from the glory days of his life, to a time when he suddenly realizes that he’s always the oldest man in the room at wild parties.
Youth is what makes this book appealing to all audiences. For people in the protagonist’s situation, they may relate to his feelings of nostalgia when he visits certain places, and for younger readers it is gripping in its description of places and things to come.
Knife Party at the Hotel Europa is an interesting collection of stories with a wide appeal, whether it is a way to experience Italy or just a witty, entertaining book. Copies are available at the campus bookstore. Ciao.