In Quintet, by Cape Breton writer Douglas Arthur Brown, estranged triplets Cameron, Adrian, and Rory are brought together by the tragic train wreck/alligator attack death of their parents. On a whim, Cameron purchases a journal and scribbles instructions on its opening pages: each of the triplets is to fill the journal with thoughts and doings for four months of the year, mailing it on to the next when time is up. It’s like a blog, but on paper, and with intense privacy settings.
It’s actually quite endearing to be reading along with the other two triplets while both Adrian and Rory confess to having kissed Cameron’s wife, or while Rory admits to telling older brother Talbot that Cameron stole his wallet all those years ago. And the journal travels in real time over about four years, charting births and deaths and mortgage crises and full-back tattoos – you know, daily doin’s – creating a fine blend of nostalgia and immediacy.
Besides its ability to bring the reader into the here and now, the journal-style format is probably the only way Brown could have gotten away with being so unbelievably . . . ah . . . lyrical? No one uses words like “somnolence” and “abhors” in everyday speech, but this way, it’s Adrian (or Rory, or Cameron) who comes across sounding pretentious, not Brown.
And to give him credit, Brown does a credible job of creating three voices similar enough to suggest that freaky triplet-ESP, but disparate enough to make apparent their years of disconnect. Unfortunately, he seems to forget at times that he’s supposed to be writing journal-style, and slips into straight narrative. The framework is all in place, all “And then you didn’t want to go, Cameron, but then you made him, Adrian,” but the dialogue rings false and the action becomes awkwardly explanatory.
And then sometimes . . . I don’t know. Maybe triplets talk this way to one another, even long–separated ones. Maybe they are this unnecessarily disclosive. But, I mean, there’s “My One-Night Stand” and then there’s “The Sordid Details of My One-Night Stand,” and then there’s “A Verbatim Transcript of My One-Night Stand,” which is a bit much. I want to believe in this journal, Douglas Arthur Brown, but sometimes you make it hard.
And then, Quintet, right? But there’s only the three of them, until Big Brother Talbot makes four. That’s a quad-tet. Which means there’s a big family secret, one that figures largely in the plot, since it contributes largely to the title, except that if you sneeze, you’ll miss it and won’t even notice, because it will have nothing to do with anything and will be barely alluded to for the rest of the book. And that’s sort of unforgivable.
But on the whole, Quintet is a soothing and quiet read. It’s not particularly ground-breaking, but it’s not particularly awful either. It’s like watching an old episode of “Full House.”