Grif and Avice are newlyweds, but Grif isn’t sure he wants to be. The Iconoclast’s Journal opens with a strange phenomenon, ball lightning, interrupting a very normal occurrence—cold feet. The first half of the novel follows Grif as he stumbles, quite literally, into one adventure after another, treating each with bewilderment and hope. The narrative never clarifies what Grif is searching for, nor what he hopes to find in these odd places, among which are a darkly comical family home, a rocky island in the middle of a lake, and a tilting hotel built by a thirteen-year-old boy. The story is strongly picaresque, in the irreverent manner of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, although Grif’s muddled emotional motivations require some patience on the part of the reader.

The humor is punctuated by moments as tragic as they are comic, when human vice and natural disasters have dark consequences. The setting is Canada at the end of the nineteenth century but the language is modern, just one of the novel’s challenges to cultural expectations. The novel’s second half brings in the much more complex Avice, a jilted newlywed who, to be fair, doesn’t particularly fit into stereotypes. The same might be said of every character Grif and Avice encounter. One priest nabs rare books from the archbishop’s library while another drinks morning coffee out of a chalice during consecration. This relevant iconoclasm is best indicated by Grif’s wry mental dialogue: “He suspected that God had an unsophisticated sense of humour, roaring at these vaudevillian entertainments, the pratfalls and comic disasters to which humans were given.”


—Review by Sara Ramey