Reading A VOLUNTARY CRUCIFIXION by David J. MacKinnon after a lifetime of exposure to (primarily) genre fiction is similar to a two-hour introduction to full-throttle hot yoga after 20 years of exclusively dining off the menu at Tim Hortons. You may hit a seemingly insurmountable, allegorical wall quickly, but if you persist, your efforts will be rewarded one-hundredfold. I knew what to expect from MacKinnon, having read his novels LEPER TANGO and THE EEL, for which proper superlatives have yet to be created. It appears, though, that he was just warming up for this book, an honest and unflinching collection of essays concerning his life, accomplishments, runs, hits and errors.
A VOLUNTARY CRUCIFIXION is divided into several sections: “Past Tense,” “Second Person Singular,” “Je Est L’Autre,” “(Three Chinese Characters which I am unable to translate but which I believe say ‘Lee Fook Lam’),” “Crime and Punishment” and “Auto-Da-Fe.” There are also two essays that serve as an introduction. MacKinnon jumps back and forth and back again in time, introducing, visiting and revisiting ancestors, acquaintances, friends, colleagues and places. The display of his intellect, knowledge and writing craftsmanship is always front and center as he explores who he is (and was), from whence he came and where he has been.
“A VOLUNTARY CRUCIFIXION is worth finding, buying, reading and savoring. MacKinnon is an underappreciated gem who, in a perfect world, would be a household name, and for more than one reason.”
MacKinnon left a career at a white-shoe Montreal law firm to reexamine the world and his life, a course correction that, through his eyes, is by turns — or sometimes simultaneously — staggering, destructive, illuminating and exhilarating. The journey includes his views on past and current events, most notably the state of indigenous people in the world (particularly North America), which is covered extensively, though not exclusively, in “Auto-Da-Fe.” He is impossible to pigeonhole politically, which is as it should be, though one can and will draw conclusions. What is undeniable is that MacKinnon’s knowledge is encyclopedic.
The book does not lend itself to a quick read. Actually, it does in one way. Most of the essays that comprise this collection are short — five pages or less — with the longest being 15 pages. That said, MacKinnon bombards readers with geographical, historical and literary references (did I forget to mention the occasional insertion of French dialogue?), demanding that you stop and take a moment to do a quick online search of the unfamiliar term or name. Don’t resist. Do it. Your enjoyment will be heightened, and MacKinnon, like an addiction, will be waiting patiently for your return.
The journey is best taken at a walking pace, which MacKinnon himself prefers. His descriptions of his ambulatory tours through France, which are scattered throughout the book, are worth the price of admission alone. If I was only permitted to read one essay here, it would have to be “Only Dogs Should Paint Dogs,” in which he hoists one of the most obnoxious of the current artistic movements onto its own self-righteous petard.
A VOLUNTARY CRUCIFIXION is worth finding, buying, reading and savoring. MacKinnon is an underappreciated gem who, in a perfect world, would be a household name, and for more than one reason. Make him one in yours.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 12, 2019
See original review – https://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/a-voluntary-crucifixion