Book by Steeves

Bystander (2022) by Mike Steeves

Mike Steeves
Book*hug Press, 2022
257 pages
ISBN: 9781771667104

Reviewed by Rebecca Liu

“The more I withdraw from the outside world, the more you became concerned with what the outside world thought of me,” says Peter, a middle-class man who works for a large multinational corporation and has what appears to be an enviable life in Bystander.

The truth is, Peter doesn’t like his job at all. It’s a show. Instead of handling problems simply, his bosses debate them in meetings and make him comfort the clients.

Peter had always been a peacemaker with the ability to get along with others. He makes people feel comfortable, and they confide in him. He has learned to socialize with international clients and make conversation in luxurious five-star hotel rooms. He has gotten used to observing people and knows exactly what they are going to say before they say it. He always has a prepared answer.

His friends, colleagues, and neighbours are background characters, and he is the main character. Yet when he sits in his rocking chair on his balcony, he feels lonely: “There’re hardly any cars on the street, so I could hear the slight breeze moving through the leaves newly sprouted on the trees that run along the fences.”

He is desperate to change his life: “The group of attractive customer service personnel treated me with the sort of kind indulgence you might show a dog that had wandered into your yard.”

On one hand, he yearns for social connection and wants to know what others think about him; on the other hand, he hates to make small talk and would rather be alone. So, when he returns after being away for nine months and notices a strange smell coming from his neighbour’s apartment, he tries not to get involved.

When a body is discovered, Peter’s carefully cultivated detachment begins to crumble. As new people move into the vacant apartment, he gets caught up in a petty dispute that will bring him to the brink. He is “a professionally successful, but socially bankrupt anti-hero who expects global connection and local anonymity.”

Peter is a contradictory character given to reflection and critique; these are his vices, and his obstacle to happiness—at least for now.

Mike Steeves was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia and lives in Montreal, Quebec. His first novel, Giving Up, was published by Book*hug Press in 2015 and was a finalist for the Concordia University First Book Award. His work has appeared in The Globe & MailMatrix, and The Shore, among others.

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