Jim Oaten is the opposite of a Pollyanna. As the inaugural winner of subTerrain magazine's creative non-fiction award, he has collected his far-from-sanguine memoirs for Accelerated Paces: Travels Across Borders and Other Imaginary Boundaries (Anvil $18), a potpourri of exploratory confessions. Along the way Oaten provides some brilliant personal views of despair. "Bottom is a lot deeper than you think it is. And there is, on the descent, a kind of panicked fascination as you keep plummeting past what you thought was ground zero"; Some of his observations are even helpful. "... depression doesn't just refer to a feeling of unhappiness. The key to the disorder is in the word itself. De-press. To push down. Most depressives have learned, almost instinctively from childhood, to hold down their emotional selves.";

Oaten has taken the lid off in his writing. Life is one big struggle for honesty. The reader shares in the narrator's amused detachment when he visits Metrotown, "a mega-mall that seemingly comprises about half of Burnaby, British Columbia,"; or Las Vegas, "fifty years of unfiltered cigarettes, spilled cocktails and the sweaty residue of dashed hopes."; Would-be screenwriters will also enjoy Oaten's account of attending writing instructor Robert McKee's legendary thirty-six-hour sermon on the well-told story in New York. Oaten remains transfixed for three days by the hyper-confident McKee. He notes, "Most writers generally make poor public speakers. Their calling is tailor-made for social isolates whose best lines flow from the considered touch of fingertip and the safe distance of the printed page.";

Accelerated Paces is attractive for its inventive writing and perceptions, rather than artful storytelling. It's not exactly fiction; but Hunter S. Thompson didn't exactly stick to the facts either. Some writing is just too good to be true. An East Vancouverite who says he lives in fear of real estate prices, Oaten offers sentences that bristle with unintentional humour. "Travel truly is a type of time-stamped insanity,"; he writes. "In fact, for someone who has never experienced it, the closest analogy I can think of to a bout of profound clinical depression is international air travel. In Economy Class."; 978-1895636-93-4


Accelerated Paces: Travels Across Borders and Other Imaginary Boundaries (Anvil 2008) $18 978-1895636-93-4

[BCBW 2008] "Travel"