On the back cover of Henry Pepper is a text by another Strathcona author, Lee Henderson, who describes the book as a “head-down portrait of a broken man” and sees in Pepper’s Strathcona a “latter-day Montparnasse, full of flop houses, artist grottos, bedbugs, organized crime, and capitalist landowners all fighting to make the place their own.”
Though I understand the purpose of a jacket text, Lee’s characterizations feel two sizes too big. For me, Pepper is neither "broken" nor complete but a force on his own terms, less a solid form than an ephemeral gesture, a proprioceptive subject open to inhabitation. As for the site – Strathcona – I see it less as a “Montparnasse” than an equally faint locus of public (utility poles) and private (disposal bins), the warp and weft of the contemporary urban experience.
Lee’s own warp and weft strategies are evident in his engaging and well-researched novel The Man Game (2008), where the weave is temporal, not spatial. This book, also set in Vancouver, has at its centre an activity that pits man against man in a conflation of fight and dance, a “game” rumored to have occurred in the nineteenth century that, like the faux Edwardian architecture so common today, has been revived by those in the present.