Colin's Big Thing, by Bruce Serafin

Ekstasis Editions, 278 pp, $21.95, softcover.

We're hooked on narrative, every last one of us. Whether we embroider an hour with the dentist or write it down, write it down, write it all down in mounting journals, we need it, the story, the arching shape, to order life's jumble.

Bruce Serafin--essayist, editor, East Side observer--helped along the stories we tell ourselves. Taking a hard left from his past (inveterate reader, English studies, friendships with poets), he signed on for 16 invisible years at the post office. There, among the clock watchers and Morlocks (remember Harvey Pekar, filing clerk/comix demigod), he honed his self-contempt even as he shuttled letters and parcels from sender to recipient, an organizing principle at its most literal.

How Serafin came to this pass forms the first half of his just-published memoir, Colin's Big Thing, named after the illustrated story collections by Mount Pleasant lurker Colin Upton. Upton's role in Colin's Big Thing is understated, held to a few self-conscious interviews between two seeming introverts; the resonance to Serafin's life--we assume--falls more to the cartoon's outsider November vibe. One clue: Serafin refers to Upton as a "damaged city mouse", an apt description of Serafin himself as he ages from relative rural happiness into something darker.

I hesitate to disparage Colin; Serafin is too clear-eyed and smart for that. Its first half, in particular, is powerful; it rehydrates the Vancouver of the 1960s and '70s, all that passion and self-interest and grassroots authenticity headily intact. Of a dear friend (and onetime Straight cartoonist): "At the UBC lawcourts, I looked at my friend with dismay. He wore his old Indian sweater that was too small in the sleeves, and he stood in the dock with his head bent forward, greasy hair falling over his face....That afternoon Alistair and I went to the Egmont. As usual, we rolled up the sleeves on our shirts and held our glasses of beer with our left hands even when the glasses were on the terrycloth table. But the words died in our throats."

Youthful pathos yields to adult bitterness in the postal gulag. Act 3--Serafin's years as editor of the Vancouver Review, his brushes with violence and disaffection off the Drive--feels, oddly, more removed than his awkward childhood, as though he can only recollect his life inversely, bringing the distant near, neglecting the present.

Colin's Big Thing launches Wednesday (August 18) at 7:30 p.m. at Café Montmartre (4362 Main Street).