If you find a lawyer in a Brooklyn meat locker it’s a reasonable assumption he’s displeased a client – likely named Tony Taglialucci – who resented both the barrister’s fees and his existence.
However, there is another possibility: that lawyer may be living in a meat locker to edit an 800-page novel that fuses an eastern European absurdist sensibility with a phenomenological critique of the law.
Alexander Boldizar, happily, is the second kind of meat locker lawyer.
More than 16 years after putting pen to paper on the campus of Harvard University, the North Vancouver author’s novel The Ugly was finally published earlier this year.
It’s the story of Muzhduk the Ugli (pronounced mozhe-duke the ugly).
Muzhduk throws large boulders. Others in his tribe also throw boulders, but not boulders as large as the ones Muzhduk throws. That is why Muzhduk will be the leader.
But the society’s strict boulderocracy is disrupted by predatory American entrepreneurs intent on building a hotel for wealthy butterfly watchers in Muzhduk’s northeast Siberian village.
Muzhduk eats butterflies.
The interlopers assess Muzhduk’s intelligence in inverse proportion to his resemblance to pro wrestler and The Princess Bride actor Andre the Giant. They soon begin their painfully legal, patently dishonest land acquisition strategy.
The village mastered metal to fight the communists. To fight Americans, they need to master the weaponry of words.
Muzhduk has to go to Harvard.
Boldizar, a big guy, who won a gold medal at the 2011 Pan American jiu jitsu tournament, is familiar with the stupid stereotype.
“People always assumed I was dumb,” the former Harvard law student says.
He recalls a summer he spent in Prague not too long after the Czech Republic and Slovakia went their separate ways.
“If I spoke Slovak in Prague – especially in the centre where it was very expensive and touristy – people would just not serve me. They would think I couldn’t afford a coffee.”
Boldizar spoke mostly English that summer, which masked his Slovakian heritage and made him privy to at least one conversation he might have missed.
He was in a coffee shop when he overheard Czechs at the next table describing Slovaks as: “dumb, boulder throwing mountain men.”
That bit of unintentional eavesdropping gave Boldizar the first inkling of a story. What if Slovaks were dumb, boulder throwing mountain men? And what if they had to seek knowledge from the place with which Boldizar was becoming increasingly disenchanted: Harvard University?
“I just had this character and this setting and I wanted to clash them into each other,” Boldizar says, likening the experiment to his childhood penchant of smashing Lego cars.
Boldizar came to Canada as an eight-year-old refugee, first spending six months in a refugee camp with little to do but devour Jules Verne and Karl May books.
Later, he delved into the science fiction of Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein.
“I read books the way people look at their iPhones now with Pokemon Go.”
From a young age, he’d been determined to get to Harvard.
“I didn’t care what the subject was, I just wanted that diploma,” he says.
But it turned out he cared more than he thought he would.
And rather than finding an eclectic assortment of freethinking weirdos, Harvard seemed more a haven for perpetually clambering careerists.
“People would be extremely nice to your face,” he explains. “They’d be competitive, but under the surface.”
Not only was the structure of the place “political and so full of bullshit,” but the “pure analytic logic” of law school precluded deeper thinking about what law really is, he explains.
He wanted to attack the idea of law from the outside, he explains.
“So, I’ll write a novel.”
It seemed simple enough.
Harvard helped him launch his career as a lawyer. A three-year sojourn in Bali effectively ended that same career.
Shortly after Bali, Boldizar was living with his pregnant wife in an illegally converted, prone-to-electrical-fires meat locker in Brooklyn.
He was also living with a monster.
A “massive, 800-page monster.”
Sipping a coffee outside Blenz on Lonsdale Avenue, decked out in his The Ugly T-shirt, Boldizar recalls the Brooklyn days when paying for coffee seemed like the height of extravagance.
After he’d graduated Harvard, 40 firms recruited him. In Brooklyn, he estimates he sent out 400 resumes and didn’t hear back from anyone.
And all the while he was devoted to finding a home for The Ugly.
“Even if the book doesn’t sell, I have to publish it just so I don’t feel like it was that massive a mistake,” he remembers thinking.
Things looked good in 2008. He had an agent and was close to signing a book deal with a big publishing house.
“And then Lehman Brothers collapsed,” he says wistfully.
With financial firms imploding like a puny challenger attempting to catch a Slovakian’s boulder, major publishing houses were all too happy to reject any book that seemed too ambitious or too odd. The Ugly was both.
Boldizar says one thought kept rolling around in his head during that period: “I messed up.”
Convinced no major publisher would take a chance on the book, his agent gave up. Shortly afterwards, Boldizar and his wife divorced.
And the book sat on the shelf from 2008 until 2015.
Eventually, Boldizar found steady work. He raised his son.
And when he looked over the opus he’d envisioned as a successor to Ulysses, he realized that it might not be the great American novel or even the great Canadian novel.
“But it was good, it was funny, there were interesting ideas in there,” he says.
He began making the book more plot-driven and balancing his newfound outlook with the vision of the argumentative young man who faced down the blank page with such vigour all those years ago.
He also trimmed a passage he described as “one long malarial trip.”
“There’s a saying: add a dream, lose a reader,” he explains.
“One of the reasons it took me 16 years is that my obstacles as a writer were not technical things … my own personality was interfering with my writing a good book. I couldn’t fix the book until I matured a bit.”
The Ugly eventually found a home at Brooklyn Arts Press and Boldizar found a home in North Vancouver, living much closer to the Seymour than the East River.
“I’ve now lived in North Vancouver longer than anywhere else in my life,” he says. “I love the idea of actually putting roots down.”