Author Tags: Fiction
Born in Venezuela, Taylor was raised in the Horseshoe Bay area of West Vancouver before he moved with this family to Edmonton where he spent his teenage years. With an economics degree from the University of Alberta and his MBA from Queen's, Taylor worked in Toronto prior to his transfer to Vancouver in 1987. He first published non-fiction in Canadian Lawyer and fiction in Grain magazine. As the winner of the Journey Prize anthology competition, he simultaneously became the first writer to have three stories published simultaneously in the annual Journey anthology.
Taylor's first novel about unsolved murders and culinary competition, Stanley Park (Knopf, 2001), was shortlisted for The Giller Prize and selected for the One Book, One Vancouver reading initiative of the Vancouver Public Library. Primarily concerned with the restaurant business, it became the basis for a screenplay by Taylor that was optioned by Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood.
A collection of short stories, Silent Cruise, containing eight stories and one novella, was followed by a second novel, Story House (Knopf 2006). It explores the rivalry and affinities of two half-brothers, born six months apart, as they attempt to restore a house that was likely designed by their father, a famous architect. This old house on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, to be featured in a reality television show called Unexpected Architecture, was the scene of a memorable boxing match between the brothers, engineered by their father, ostensibly to allow them to settle their differences. Graham, the natural son of the architect, has become an architect. Elliot, the son of his father's mistress, imports counterfeit brand-name products. Taylor gained some insights for the novel from his discussions with architect and writer Trevor Boddy.
In his novel that examines the culture of celebrity, The Blue Light Project (Knopf, 2011), a man armed with an explosive device storms a television studio where a youth talent show is being filmed, and demands an interview with a disgraced former investigative journalist.
Stanley Park (Knopf, 2001)
Story House (Knopf 2006)
The Blue Light Project (Knopf, 2011) 978-0-307-39930-4 $32.95
Foodville: Biting Dispatches from a Food-Obsessed City (Nonvella 2014)
[BCBW 2014] "Stanley Park" "Fiction"
Story House (Knopf $34.95)
In the way that his acclaimed debut novel, Stanley Park, could be said to be about food, Timothy Taylor’s ambitious and intricate second novel, Story House, can be said to be about architecture. That is to say, architecture is the central scaffolding on which Taylor hangs his ideas. Specifically we are talking about the designs of the elusive Packer Gordon, an icon in the architectural world, whose buildings are marvels of glass and steel, planes and layers, appearing to float in the air, to enter into a dialogue with the landscape surrounding them. In their simplicity and purity of form they harken back to the Haida longhouses of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Story House begins, somewhat jarringly, with a brutal boxing match between Packer Gordon’s two teenaged sons, orchestrated and filmed by their famous father. Born only six months apart, Graham is the son of Packer and his wife; Elliot is the product of a mysterious affair Packer conducted in Korea. Far from resolving anything between the two brothers, the fight deepens the enmity between them. Some twenty years on, long after the death of their father, the estranged brothers are both struggling. Outwardly successful, Graham has become an architect like his father. But in contrast to his uncompromising artist father who built only what he wanted to build, Graham’s less-than-satisfying career is about fixing rather than making things. Graham makes his living remodelling and “rebranding” the décor of hotel chains, replacing one empty fashion statement with another. He and his business partner, who is also his part-time mistress, rip out all the mahogany panelling, the striped upholstery, hardwood floors and club chairs from ten years ago and replace everything with neo-modern surfaces of chrome and steel and glass, the new “core brand of sex” where there’s a vibrator in the night table drawer rather than a Gideon’s Bible.
Meanwhile Elliot has been flirting on the edge of the criminal scene, hanging out with bikers, punkers and assorted unsavory types, much to the chagrin of his wife Dierdre, a former architect herself, and the mother of twin boys. For years he’s been in the business of selling fakes, knock-offs of watches, sunglasses and T-shirts. Recently he has turned to making fakes of fakes. He can’t seem to get out of the game. Drawn to what is fake, Elliot is happiest tripping around Korea visiting places like Cult Fashion Mall, which boasts anything you bring to it can be made in seven days. “Four floors of sunglasses and watches, mobile phones and cameras, handbags and designer T-shirts. Everything fake or fake-able. Everything for sale. Everything vibrating with the tension, the excited blood cells, the nervous synapse firings of monied desire.” The brothers come together again when the producer of the reality TV show, Unexpected Architecture, decides to make a series about a recently rediscovered Packer Gordon design, Story House. It will be a little like Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. He wants to film the two brothers discussing, arguing, hammering out what to do about restoring and remodelling the deteriorating structure.
Possibly Packer’s first building, Story House is an architectural conundrum tucked away in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. With its double-helix staircase, odd angles, empty hallways, and lack of a kitchen, it isn’t really a house at all, but a riddle to be solved, a question to be answered. The brothers have to unlock its mysteries, to find out what it’s for. This they do, coming up with an ingenious idea that has spectacular and devastating results, both for the building and themselves.
With all its embellishment and detail, its eccentric characters, strange locales, and discourses on architecture, Taylor’s construction is more like a baroque cathedral than one of Packer Gordon’s spare, modern designs. Besides Graham and Elliot and their illustrious father, there are many minor characters. We keep shifting from one character to the next, from Pogey the boxing coach, to Rico, the underworld figure who lives in the Orwell Hotel, as well as Kirov, Elliot’s punk Russian business partner; Avi Zweigler, the TV producer; Graham’s estranged wife Esther; and Elliot’s partner Dierdre, to mention a few. We don’t get much of a chance to focus on one particular character. More seriously, we often aren’t given a reason to care about them either. There are constant shifts in time and place within a convoluted plot, making for a sometimes confusing narrative. Descriptions of food and fashion fads, though brilliant on their own, can be distracting, gratuitous, and take away from the context of the story.
It’s to his credit though, that Taylor has pulled off a novel where most of the conversations revolve around the intricacies of architectural design. Only a writer of great narrative and descriptive gifts could pull it off. Though the action is somewhat contrived, and the characters are driven by the plot rather than the other way around, the suspense and drama around what happens to the Story House carry us through to the novel’s riveting and tragic ending. Like the house it is named for, this novel asks difficult questions and provides no easy answers. How can we rediscover the simplicity and purity of art in a post-modern world where everything is about image and branding and consuming something that isn’t real, that has no organic roots in anything? How can we reconnect with the natural landscape without going to the extreme of camping alone on the beaches of the Queen Charlotte Islands the way Graham’s wife Esther does? Timothy Taylor poses the questions and it’s for us to find the answers. 0-676-97764-2
-- review by Sheila Munro, author of Lives of Mothers and Daughters.
[BCBW 2006] "Non-fiction"