20 May 2024

A Poet's Pulp Novel



The Winter of Time
Raymond Holmes [Raymond Souster]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
160 pages

Anyone looking for a good story is sure to be disappointed. The plot is so thin, so unsurprising, so uninspired, that I have no hesitation in sharing it in full.

This shouldn't take long.

It is March 1945. Harry Byers, our hero and narrator, leaves Halifax for a war that everyone knows is all but over. Bournemouth, his destination, is the primary reception depot for RCAF personnel. Harry has barely set foot on English soil before being pressed by a new pal to go on a double date with WAAF gal Helen Noble. They hit it off and are engaged within days. Germany surrenders. Harry and Helen wed, honeymoon in Scotland, are separated due to respective service obligations, but are reunited in London. To borrow from F Scott Fitzgerald, Harry did "get over," but he never sees action.

Not that kind anyway.

Come Christmas, Harry is back living with his parents in Toronto. War bride Helen is with her parents in London, awaiting passage on a ship to Canada. They write each other daily, though Harry struggles to fill the pages. In one of her early letters, Helen announces that she's pregnant. The news encourages Harry to return to his boring old job at a Bay Street brokerage. When not writing letters and sending provisions overseas, he goes out drinking with old friend Paul Hannah. One memorable evening, he ends up in the back of Paul's 1938 Ford with new friend Vera (Harry never learns her last name). Pretty Betty Anderson is another new friend, but she's far too good a girl for him to make a move.

The baby, a boy, arrives in August. All seems fine until Harry receives a cablegram that Helen is very ill. He flies to New York, then across the Atlantic, arriving in London too late. After the funeral he's back in the air, leaving his son in the care of his in-laws. Harry stays in New York for a couple of weeks, visiting pal Pete Adams and taking up with Clair Thompson, a tall brunette who looks good in a sweater and slacks. He never tells either of his dead wife. After that, it's off to see Montreal writer friend Walter Green in Montreal, then he catches a train to Toronto. Once home, Harry makes a play for Betty, but she tells him she's taken. He goes on a bender with Paul, which ends in a car accident that should've killed them both. They decide to rent a cottage up north, and maybe work on a book, but the plan is cut short by Clair's sudden appearance in Toronto. She tells Harry that she's pregnant, so he proposes: "I guess I thought about the two of us getting married since the first time we met, so the it doesn't sound strange or something unexpected, now."

And that's pretty much it.


The New Stand Library cover copy paints The Winter of Time as a sprawling epic:
What veteran, accustomed to regimentation and suddenly thrown on his own resources to take his place in the way of life for which he had fought, didn't experience a strange mixture of hope and despair, relief and nostalgia, determination and frustration, joy and bitterness, as did Harry in these two symbolic years?
But can we really expect so much from so slim a volume?

It's best to approach The Winter of Time as a first novel that attempts much while adhering to strict confine enforced by the publisher's standard 160-page format. As evidence, look no further than the final three pages, in which Clair turns up unexpectedly in Toronto, announces that she's expecting, and becomes engaged to Harry. This rush of events, typical of News Stand Library endings suggests a writer who realizes the sudden need to wrap everything up. Souster proves himself superior to other NSL authors by applying the brakes with a closing descriptive paragraph that has Harry raising the blinds of his apartment "for no reason" and looking down on sunlight playing on once cloud-covered Sherbourne Street.

Three things make The Winter of Time worth reading, the first being the collision of life during wartime with the impetuous folly of youth. Harry and Helen decide to marry on their third date. The stuff of Las Vegas misadventure today, it was not so unusual at the time, particularly given the circumstances. My grandparents, who lived to celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary together, were one such couple. It has been claimed that service leads to maturity, but this is not the case with Harry. A married man in his mid-twenties, he cheats on his pregnant wife of one year with a woman he doesn't even like. Keep in mind, Harry is the narrator of this story.

The novel's greatest riches in come in the details, like the experience of taking a train to London on VE-Day or what it was like going to see Bert Niosi at Toronto's Palais Royale:
There were a lot of girls checking their coats and purses. They had come stag, mostly in two's. They were the usual girls you saw at the Palais, girl who were now in the city and did not have a steady boy-friend. And most of them were nice kids, jus out for an evening of dancing.They were the prey of all the fast boys who thought they were God's gift to women. The fast boys were interested in only one thing, and every one had his own system of leading up to it, the only difference being that some were more subtle than others.
Palais Royale, Toronto, 1946

There are many more references to many more drinking establishments. I was most taken aback by mention of Montreal's Blue Bird Café, which a quarter-century later would be the site of one of the city's greatest tragedies.

As a child, I first read about it in the pages of the Montreal Gazette. It has haunted me ever since 

Students of Canadian literature, not true crime, will be more interested in the odd turn the novel takes in the last third, immediately after Helen's death. It begins with Harry's visit with Pete, a Montrealer who is studying at Columbia:
Pete is a good guy and he has written some damn fine poetry. Poetry with guts that was still only grudgingly accepted in Canada. He had been very frankly critical about my work but mine was so close to the thing that he was tying to do himself that I knew he was honestly interested in it, and that was something very rarely found in another writer.
This is the first indication that our hero holds literary aspirations. The second comes on the very same page when Harry describes his address book as being filled with names of publishers and old girlfriends. From this point on, references to thing literary are frequent; Joyce, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and Morley Callaghan abound. Harry tells Pete he is impressed by his recent New York-themed verse, though just when and where he read it is a mystery. He is convinced his friend could be a great poet, the kind of poet Canada has needed for a long time, but never produced. As Harry tells Clair, "I'd hate to see his fine talent turned into something unnatural and a mockery after those university professor bastards and C.A.A. parasites got their claws into him."

The digs against the the world of academe and the Canadian Authors Association continue in Montreal:
"I think the whole writing game is a little overrated," I said. "Here in Canada, though, the odds are so much against any decent writer that he's practically buggered before he even starts. I guess we should all be college professors and join the C.A.A."
   "I'm seriously thinking of joining," Walter said, "All I've got to do is get rid of my artistic conscience and any pretensions of doing any more honest writing."
Walter is Walter Green: "He was a few years older than I was, and for some years had been writing almost the only honest proletarian writing in Canada, if there really is such a thing as 'proletarian writing.'"

Is Pete Adams modelled on Ralph Gustafson? An even more interesting question is whether Jewish Montrealer Walter Green was inspired Ted Allan. Could be. Souster had to come to News Stand Library somehow. Allan's pseudonymous NSL pulp Love is a Long Shot was published two months before The Winter of Time. Garner, we know, came to NSL through Allan's recommendation. His Waste No Tears appeared eight months later under the name Jarvis Warwick. 

 

The Winter of Time is not to be read for its plot, but it is to be read. It's a shame that it had to end so soon.

I wonder when Harry would've told Clair about his dead wife and newborn son. 

On drinking in Toronto:
The bottled beer came and we ordered two more pints. The beer was very good. I was just beginning to appreciate it. You could tell it was Montreal beer. The best beer.
On drinking in New York: 
The beer was very amber and clear, lighter than Canadian beer. It was milder and pleasanter to drink, I thought, than our beer if you were only interested in a cool drink and did not want to feel happy after two or three glasses.
A query: Are we really meant to believe that the Sunday Times received an advance review copy of a Canadian pulp novel?

Object and Access: A typical News Stand Library book, except that it has fewer mistakes than most. I caught one sentence that cuts off after the first word. Clair appears variously as "Claire" and "Clare."Buses is misspelled "busses," but that's a common error.

Well done!

D Rickard's cover is strange, even by News Stand Library standards. At no point in the novel does our hero walk down Bloor Street. Neither of the two girls he knows in Toronto has black hair. And doesn't that that gal look an awful lot like Rickard's rendition of Gisele Lepine from Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street (1949). And are their dresses very similar?

As of this writing, just one copy is listed for sale online. Price: US$195.00.

I received my copy as a gift last Christmas.

The Winter of Time was reissued at some point – when, I'm not sure – by the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box. Whether that edition is still available is up for question and my query has gone unanswered.

Related posts:

12 May 2024

Growing up with Mother



Miranda
Jan Hilliard [Hilda Kay Grant]
New York: Abelard -Schuman, 1960
247 pages
 

Miranda is the mother of two daughters, the younger being Rose, the narrator of this novel. Rose calls her mother Miranda, as encouraged by Miranda because Miranda would rather be taken for an older sister.

Miranda has aspirations. She married Alfie Arnold with the expectation that he would raise her above the class into which she'd been born. They are a good match – he loves her dearly, she really loves him –except that Alfie is content with living a modest life on his aunt's small Sussex farm. Miranda will have none of it. At her urging, the family is uprooted, trading Aunt Eliza's farm for a much larger one in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. The Arnolds are able to do this only with the financial assistance of a Government of Canada program designed to bring agricultural labourers to the country. This is not to suggest that Miranda herself has any intention of working herself. She had her fill during the Great War, when she's served as a Park Lane parlourmaid. Again, Miranda has aspirations:

The Arnolds spend three years in Cheswick, living in a small house on the farm of Mr and Mrs Saunders. Alfie, a cheerful soul by nature, is happier than he's ever been. Not so Miranda. In Canada, she'd expected her family would "stand out like a pearl among the stones," but the locals take no particular notice. The farming couple's warmth and friendliness, so appreciated by Alfie and the girls, only serves to irritate. One particular Sunday road trip to Grande Pré, complete with the recitation of select lines from Evangeline and an account of the Acadian Expulsion, was almost too much for Miranda to bear. And then came Mrs Saunders' offer, filled "with such enthusiasm and goodwill," to teach Miranda Canadian ways and customs:

"Why should I learn their damned customs?" Miranda demanded as soon as she got my father home. The story of Evangeline had not gone over too well with her. She suspected Mrs. Saunders was being anti-British. "What's the matter with English customs?
   "She was only trying to help," Alfie said in a placating voice.
   "Saying she'd make real Canadians out of us in no time! I never heard of anything so insulting. I didn't come to the colonies to be one of them."

Miranda avoids Mrs Saunders, but does enjoy the company Dan Murphy, District Representative of veterinary supply firm B.F. Whitney. Whether the salesman sees Miranda as a pearl among the stones is debatable, but he does drop by from time to time, always when Alfie is in the fields. Dan strokes her amour propre, but nothing more. Through the salesman, Miranda gets the idea that Alfie himself might find a district representative position with B.F. Whitney. She prods, eventually applying to the company on her husband's behalf and Alfie is quickly hired. At about the same time his Aunt Eliza kicks the washtub, leaving an inheritance of £200 (roughly $16,000 today). 

"'My husband has fallen heir to his aunt's estate in Sussex,'" Rose hears Miranda tell Mrs Saunders. "She made poor old Great-aunt Eliza, who used to wear men's boots indoors and out and took her baths standing up at the sink in the scullery, sound like an offshoot of royalty."

The family relocates to Yarmouth – "which I shall call Southport" – the biggest town in Alfie's district. This raised concern in this reader, who well-remembers grade six geography class.


Southport is much more to Miranda's liking. She now lives one block from Main Street in a once grand rented house (a deal, owing to it being across the street from the jail yard), and so has frequent opportunity to show herself off. Her flapper dress is thin, and her heels too narrow to be practical, but she really cuts a figure next to the heavy coated, rubber booted fishermen's wives negotiating the slush of Main Street.

Herein lies the problem. There's not much call for veterinary supplies in an area so reliant on fishing. The land is poor and the farms hardscrabble. Alfie is miserable, casting about for customers, as his inheritance evaporates. Miranda tries to help by working part-time at Betty's Beauty Parlor, but all too quickly Alfie's position at The B.F. Whitney Company quite literally kills him.  

Miranda is devastated – again, she really did love Alfie – yet has the strength to rally. She takes in roomers and increases her hours at Betty's.* The job feeds her ego. After all, who better to work in a beauty salon than the town beauty? Without Alfie to rely upon, she reveals herself as a very clever woman, adding layer after layer to her facade, never being caught out on one of her many, many fabrications.

The Calgary Herald, 11 May 1961

This is, of course, Miranda's story, but only as seen by her youngest. As she grows into womanhood, Rose gradually comes to see – and then comes to terms – with not only her mother's imperfections, but how she is perceived, fairly or not, by others.

Reviews of Miranda were without exception enthusiastic; Walter O'Hearne raved in The New York Times (16 April 1961), as did fellow Leacock winner Joan Walker in The Globe & Mail (1 July 1961). Not that any of this meant anything in the long run.

Sadly, unfairly, Miranda is yet another novel that was printed once and then never again. In this respect, it is very much a pearl among the stones.

Will a publisher please pick it up.

*The 1931 census, records the author, age 20, as working as a hairdresser
and living in a Yarmouth rooming house.

About the author:

Object and Access: A butter-coloured cloth hardcover with violet type. I'm guessing that the jacket illustration is the author's own doing, though I could be wrong.

I'm pleased to see that Yarmouth's Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Library has copies of all the author's books.

As of this writing, I see just one copy listed for sale online. Near Fine, at US$9.25, it's a steal. The seller is located in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, which I shall call Cheswick.

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29 April 2024

Of Cannibals and Christians



The Great Taboo
Grant Allen
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891
271 pages

Reviewing Gilbert Parker's The Right of Way a while back, I expressed my opposition to the idea of starting a novel with dialogue. "'Not guilty, your Honor!'"   italics and all – is its first line.

The first line in The Great Taboo is "'Man overboard!'"

Better than "Splash!" I suppose.

The man who has gone overboard is, in fact, a woman. No one knows this better than English civil servant Felix Thurston. An instant earlier he'd grasped Miss Muriel Ellis' slender waist as a wall of water struck the deck of the Austalasian:

The wave had knocked him down, and dashed him against the bulwark on the leeward side. As he picked himself up, wet, bruised, and shaken, he looked about for Muriel. A terrible dread seized upon his soul at once. Impossible! Impossible! she couldn't have been washed overboard!

Thurston dives into the "fierce black water" – I should've mentioned it is nighttime – intent on rescue. Lifebelts are flung in their general direction and a boat is lowered, its light playing upon the waves, but to no avail. After an exhaustive search, the crewmen return to the ship. Their captain is philosophical:

"I knew there wasn't a chance; but in common humanity one was bound to make some show of trying to save 'em. He was a brave fellow to go after her, though it was no good, of course. He couldn't even find her, at night, and with such a sea as that running."
In fact, Mr Thurston did find Miss Owen; Felix and Muriel cling to each other even as the captain speaks. Buoyed by lifebelts, the pair drifts toward a reef that bounds Boupari, "one of those rare remote islets where the very rumor of our European civilization has hardly yet penetrated." As the new day dawns, Felix begins to make out signs of habitation. He's well aware that the Polynesian islands are home to "the fiercest and most bloodthirsty cannibals known to travellers." And so, he is on his guard as smiling, friendly souls paddle to transport the two castaways from reef to islet.

Felix and Muriel are not eaten, rather they're made the King of Rain and Queen of Clouds. The two are considered gods, subservient only to the high god Tu-Kila-Kila. They are also deemed "Korong," a word the civil servant, who is otherwise conversant in Polynesian languages, knows not.


Here the reader has an advantage in that the word was chanted repeatedly during the roasting of two Boupari inhabitants mere hours before Felix and Muriel's arrival. Still, it is surprising that the King of Rain and Queen of Clouds, who seem fairly sharp, need be told its meaning... and by a parrot, no less!

Grant Allen was all too dismissive of his novels, but I'm not. The best part of worthwhile nineteenth-century Canadian fiction was written by Allen. That said, I have been dismissive of his adventure novels, Wednesday the Tenth (aka The Cruise of the Albatross) included. Published the same year The Great Taboo, it too features cannibals.*

But I wonder, could it be that The Great Taboo is something more than an adventure novel? Allen's preface is by turns intriguing and amusing:


This reviewer is aware of Frazier's The Golden Bough (1890-1915), but has not read it. I'm familiar with Andrew Lang, but not his Myth, Ritual, and Religion (1887). Henry Ogg Forbes's A Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago (1885) and Julian Thomas's Cannibals and Convicts (1886) are both new to me, as they would have been to Allen in the years preceding The Great Taboo.

I haven't had time to read those books, but have read Mary Beard's review of Robert Fraser's 1990 The Making of ‘The Golden Bough’: The Origin and Growth of an Argument (London Review of Books, 26 June 1990), in which she writes that The Great Taboo "turned Frazer’s metaphorical journey into a literal tale of travel and adventure." It is, in her words, "a crude and simplified retelling of The Golden Bough," and "important for our understanding of the immediate popular reception of Frazer’s work."

In the end, Felix and Muriel are not consumed by cannibals. As the genre dictates, they escape Boupari, marry, and return to England. The final scene is also the best. It takes place in the London drawing room of the Mrs Ellis, Muriel's aunt by marriage, in which the newlyweds are confronted with the taboos of their own island.

The last sentence is much better than the first.

* Five years ago, I posted a Grant Allen top ten in which The Cruise of the Albatross takes the final spot. At the time, I'd read all of twelve Allen novels. I've now read eighteen. The Cruise of the Albatross has fallen to fourteenth position.
Trivia: Being of a certain age, I couldn't read the title without thinking of the Great Gazoo. The name Felix Thurston reminded me of this more famous fictional castaway:

Object and Access: My first American edition was purchased four or five years ago. I cannot remember how much I paid, but it couldn't have been fifty dollars. The true first is the British first. Published in 1890 by Chatto & Windus, I see evidence of a second printing the following year.

No copies of either is listed for sale online today. It would appear that there have been no other editions.

The Harper & Bros edition can be read online here courtesy of the Internet Archive.

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17 April 2024

Morley Callaghan's Red Ryan Rocket


More Joy in Heaven
Morley Callaghan
New York: Random House, 1937
278 page
s

It's been decades since Intro to CanLit II, my second introduction to Canadian literature. Like Intro to CanLit I, the  course covered four works; all novels, all written by men. Hugh MacLennan's The Watch That Ends the Night was my favourite, but I do remember liking They Shall Inherit the Earth. We were told that its author, Morley Callaghan, was “perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world.” Here our professor was quoting Edmund Wilson. He made much of this, but at  twenty the name Edmund Wilson meant nothing to me.

They Shall Inherit the Earth (1935) sits in the middle of a run of three novels considered Callaghan's best. The first, Such is My Beloved (1934), involves a handsome young priest – in fiction all young priests are handsome – who befriends two prostitutes. It vies with the third, More Joy in Heaven, as Callaghan's best known novel. They Shall Inherit the Earth is not nearly so well known. You can understand why. They Shall Inherit the Earth is a story about a father and son who, to quote the cover of my old NCL edition (right), are "forced to re-examine the nature of individual conscience and responsibility." It has no sex workers, nor does it have a bank robber.

More Joy in Heaven has both.

Its protagonist, Kip Caley, isn't a prostitute, but he had robbed banks – so many banks that he was sentenced to life and twenty lashes. In prison, Caley underwent a transformation of some kind. There's no suggestion that he found God, though Caley did find Father Butler, the prison chaplain. Somehow, the worst man in Canada becomes the most beloved.

Callaghan is lazy.

The novel opens on Christmas Day, the day of Caley's release from Kingston Penitentiary. Father Brown is present, as is Senator Maclean, who had fought for a pardon.

Caley returns to his hometown, Toronto, where he takes a job at a hotel and nightclub that caters to sporting types. The senator arranged it all. A greeter, a position in which he never feels comfortable, all Caley has to do is welcome patrons. Everyone wants to meet the reformed man; it's great for business. Kip Caley is the toast of the town, but as months pass he seems more the man of the hour.

More Joy in Heaven is a good novel, but the greatest fiction is found on its copyright page:


Contemporary reviewers were not fooled.

Callaghan modelled Caley on Norman "Red" Ryan, a career criminal who had been killed by police on 23 May 1936, eighteen months before publication. It was big news.
 
The Globe, 25 May 1936
Like Caley, Ryan was held up – no pun intended  – as a model of reform. He was fêted, given plumb jobs,  including a weekly radio show, only to be gunned down ten months later during the botched robbery of a Sarnia liquor store.

The Big Red Fox, Peter McSherry's 1999 Arthur Ellis nominated biography of Ryan, is recommended.

More Joy in Heaven is also recommended, as is They Shall Inherit the Earth.

I'm guessing Edmund Wilson would concur.


Trivia: Ernest Hemingway covered Ryan for the Toronto Daily Star and had himself considered writing a novel with a character modelled on the man. I've often wondered whether Papa mentioned the idea to fellow Star reporter Callaghan.

Object:
 I purchased my copy, a first edition, in 1989 from a cart at the Westmount Public Library. Sadly, it lacks the dust jacket (above), but then what can you expect for $1.00.

Access: The novel remains in print, though I suspect the copies have been sitting in Penguin Random House for over a decade now. What's offered features the 2007 New Canadian Library cover design... and, well, the New Canadian Library is long dead.

The 1960 and 2009 NCL editions.
More Joy in Heaven was one of the earliest NCL titles. Hugo McPherson wrote the introduction to the first NCL edition; Margaret Avison wrote an afterword for the last. Penguin Random House LLC is asking $19.95, though used copies are far cheaper. First editions listed online start at US$20 (sans dust jacket) and go all the way up to US$150. For my money, the best buy is a Very Good to Near Fine copy offered by a Winchester, Virginia bookseller. Price: US$110.


I expected Italian and French translations, but have found only a Russian: Радость на небесах. The first in a three-novel Морли Каллаган volume published in 1982, it also features Тихий уголок (A Fine and Private Place) and И снова к солнцу (Closer to the Sun).

Why those novels, I wonder?


I read More Joy in Heaven for The 1937 Club.

After all these years, the only other 1937 title I've reviewed at The Dusty Bookcase is John by Irene Baird.

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16 April 2024

Of Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns, and David Richard Beasley


 
Canadian Authors You Should Know is a self-published book written by a man who counts himself amongst those you should know.
   Is that not absurd?
   It was doubly so for this reviewer because I do know David Richard Beasley.
So begins my review of Canadian Authors You Should Know, now available in the Spring edition of The Dorchester Review. Beasley's book is one of the most idiosyncratic works of CanLit scholarship I have ever read. His Canadian authors you should know number eight, of which these are the first seven:
John Richardson
Herman Whitaker
Frederick Philip Grove
Wyndham Lewis
Norman, Newton
Thomas B. Costain
Jamie Brown

The eighth is David Richard Beasley.

I knew six. Herman Whitaker (1867-1919) was new to me. A Brit, he spent spent much of his twenties in Canada before leaving in 1895 for California. The first of his three novels, The Settler, was published ten years later.


I've never considered writers just passing through Canadian, so was more interested in what Beasley had to say about Vancouver's Norman Newton (1929-2011), another author who was new to me.

Just think, all those years I'd lived on Davie Street, immersed in the literary scene, President of the Federation of BC Writers, and I'd never once heard Norman Newton's name.

And so I purchased a copy – sight unseen – of The Big Stuffed Hand of Friendship, Newton's fourth and final novel. 

Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1969
Black matte with a foil overlay, as an object it hasn't aged particularly well. Never mind. Look closely at the jacket and you will see this:


Oh, Canada.