29 January 2010

Some Senators Write (or Say They Do)

News this morning of five more Tory senate appointments, including yet another published author. This time the honour goes to Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, whose Survivre à l'innommable is, perhaps, the best book penned by a Harper appointee. Not to slight skier and Mars Bar pitch queen Nancy Greene, but her autobiography, published when she was 25, was a tad premature. For one, it contains nothing of her decades of battle against biologists, environmentalists and native groups.

(Honestly, all this fuss over watersheds and endangered species when our millionaires are suffering long lift lines.)

Of the authors the prime minister has sent to the upper chamber, Pamela Wallin is the most prolific. She's also a publicist's dream. Her link at the senate homepage is unique in that it leads away from things governmental to a commercial site: pamelawallin.com. There you can read all about the senator's career, including her three books. You'll remember the first, Since You Asked, which appeared in 1998, at about the time she and the CBC gave up on each other. It seems that a few years later, we were offered something called Speaking of Success: Collected Wisdom, Inspiration and Reflection.

Doesn't ring any bells?

Publisher Key Porter says the book was a bestseller. In fact, they trumpet the accomplishment on the cover of her 2003 The Comfort of Cats, which "explores the bond between Kitty, a creatively named Siamese cat, and the woman who lives with her, Pamela Wallin."


The senator provides convenient links to amazon.ca and amazon.com.

(Senator, why do you snub Heather Reisman? After all, how much money has Jeff Bezos given to your party?)

Fellow author Linda Frum can learn a lot from her enterprising colleague. Frum's senate website has nothing about Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities or Barbara Frum: A Daughter's Memoir, and nearly six months after her appointment, her pages seem such skeletal things. Sure, there's that strange speech she gave about her grandmother having been born at home, the recent "Grey Cup match" and other stuff, but the rest is nothing more than a bunch of links. That said, I was interested to see that she presents four that concern Parliament. In these dark days of prorogation, what reassuring words does Senator Frum recommend we read? Well, there's an intriguing sounding article titled "The Parliament of Canada — Democracy in action", but clicking on the link only takes you to this page:

Anyone looking to bring this to the senator's attention will find that her contact page says, simply, "Contact Us".


The senator offers no hint as to the identity of this mysterious group, but then she offers no address or phone number either.

Senator Frum may be reached by writing:
The Honourable Linda Frum Sokolowski
Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A4

25 January 2010

Disowned and Distant

Unlike Graham Greene, who never disowned his "entertainments," Brian refused to talk about his thrillers and in his later years he vainly hoped that nobody would unearth these ephemeral works or decipher the pseudonyms, I personally could never understand this. From the very beginning it was obvious that he had mastered the genre. The books were immensely readable and his genius for atmosphere, dialogue and plot was everywhere evident, but when I said that to Brian it only irritated him.
— William Weintraub, Getting Started: A Memoir of the 1950s (McClelland & Stewart, 2001).
The last time I saw Brian Moore he was sitting alone in a damp bar overlooking Vancouver's False Creek. I felt he was owed a drink. Just thirty minutes earlier he'd completed one of the worst literary events I had ever attended. The reading, from The Statement, had gone quite well, but it was followed by the most cringe-worthy Q & A.

It began badly with a woman who asked about his work habits. This is, I believe, the most common query posed at such events. It's repeated often by those who seek some sort of formula that will magically transform them into writers. In this particular instance, a rough description would not suffice; what this woman wanted were details, dammit. Her follow-up questions – and there were many – invariably began: "So, you're saying I should...."

Next up was a man who had some extremely complimentary things to say about Margaret Atwood. Praise served as preamble. After assuring the author that he and Atwood were very much in the same league, the speaker blamed Moore's relatively low profile on the fact that his novels were published by several different houses. "Your agent should attend to this", the author was advised.

It all ended with an animated, wildly overdressed man, who used the forum to deliver a lengthy speech on Canada as a "rabidly" anti-Catholic country.

"Is Canada an anti-Catholic country?" was Moore's brief, yet polite response.

Filing out, I repeated this question to my companion, a member of the Church of Rome, who countered that our prime minister, Jean Chrétien, was a Catholic (as had been seven of his nineteen predecessors). Though C of E myself, I breathed a sigh of relief.

At some point in all this mess, Moore had happened to mention The Revolution Script, his 1971 novel about the October Crisis. It was, he'd said, a mistake to have written the book. This off-hand remark came back to me while reading The Executioners. Having disowned his pulp novels, had Moore started to distance himself from other works?

Brian Moore was Graham Greene's favourite living novelist, and as one might expect, his bibliography is both impressive and long. Ignoring the pulps, from 1955 until his death he averaged something approaching a book every two years. Here's the list that was included in Moore's 1988 novel The Colour of Blood:

And here's what was printed seven years later in The Statement, the book he was obliged to promote that grey Vancouver afternoon:

Note that
The Revolution Script has disappeared, as has Canada (1963), a non-fiction title he wrote for money "with the Editors of Life". I very much doubt that this was an oversight. Once published, the titles had always been recognized in similar bibliographies until Lies of Silence (1990)... when they disappeared, never to included again.

I'd have been proud to have written either.

22 January 2010

Murderers Move In On Montreal

The Executioners
Brian Moore
Toronto: Harlequin, 1951

One year later, another Brian Moore pulp. The Executioners was the author's second novel, published just months after Wreath for a Redhead. Not nearly as much fun or as interesting, it lacks the quirkiness and much of the noirish language of his debut. This isn't to say that these are typical elements in the author's recognized oeuvre there's not much wackiness in Black Robe, and while its nights were dark, they weren't "as black as a showgirl's mascara" but here Moore's great strengths are also absent.

While the scenario is fairly pedestrian a group of foreign agents arrive in Montreal with orders to kidnap or kill an exiled leader – the greatest weakness is that the characters have no flesh. The hero, Mike Farrell, seems to have had some background in boxing, and we know he served in the Second World War. What else can we say about Farrell? Well, we're told that he's a native Montrealer – but this comes from the jacket copy, not the author. Small samplings of candy are provided by Janina, the beautiful blonde niece of the exiled leader. She is "everything you want and don't get, and most of it encased in a sheer blue dress", but not much more.

And then there's the leader himself, who Moore biographer Denis Sampson tells us was inspired by Stanislaw Mikołajczyk, the subject of the author's very first piece of journalism.

The statesman is described as a man with a "huge head". Seems right to me.

The Executioners shows signs of a rushed job. The first chapter, which begins in a pick-up joint frequented by buxom joy kids, is the strongest. In fact, the best line, concerning that same night club, appears on the first page: "The vice squad had closed it up as tight as a ballet dancer's pants two months before and I figured the girls had moved their trade." After this, like the joy kids' clients, we encounter more and more padding – in a book of only 157 pages – provided by frequent drives around town, trips out to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and talk of detailed schemes that are never put into action.

It's not at all surprising that Moore's agent succeeded in placing Wreath for a Redhead with an American publisher, but failed with The Executioners. I'm betting that the next pulp, French for Murder (1954) is better, but won't know for sure for another year. After The Executioners, it'll be an easy wait.

Object: A typical Harlequin. Printed on cheap paper, reading may lead to destruction. My copy, bought for two dollars at a bookstore that has since been swallowed up by the Palais des congrès, is in rotten shape. I handle it with loving care.

The cover image depicts two of the ne'r-do-wells outside the statesman's safe house, 26 Chablee Avenue. Though the street doesn't exist outside fiction, I think anyone who knows Montreal will agree that the architecture is, to put it politely, atypical.

Access: A non-circulating item found in rare book rooms and the like. The cheapest copy on offer, which looks to be in as rough shape as my own, will set you back C$50. There are much worse copies that go for even more. In fact, none of the nine currently listed online can be said to be anything better than Good. Most go for between C$60 and C$75. The most expensive copy – C$128 – comes with a signed slip of paper. An insult to both author and collector.

Related posts:

18 January 2010

One Issue Wonder?

I was going to include this artifact from 1980 in the previous post, but does it not deserve one of its own? Amongst contemporary Montreal music mags Mode & Musik stands out in so very many ways, not the least of which is its use of a typesetting machine in place of a typewriter. I bought this thing as a teenager, but otherwise know nothing about it. Looking at the masthead, only Yves Thériault's name is familiar – but I very much doubt that this is the same man who wrote Agaguk. That said, there is an piece by Jacques Lee Pelletier, who was "New Wave's first cosmetician". How do I know this? Because his article is preceded by one on... Jacques Lee Pelletier.

There's a good deal of mode and muzik here, but precious little Montreal. In mode, M Pelletier is the lone Canadian, presented beside designers Betsey Johnson and Thierry Mugler. In music, there are articles on XTC, the Specials and the Boomtown Rats, but aside from a lone, blurry photograph of sixteen-year-old disco diva France Joli and producer Tony Green, there's not a sign of the city's music scene.

Could it be that they sensed the mirror ball was about to drop?

Something is going on here. Publisher les Éditions Alquint has spilled an awful lot of expensive ink on something called "le Salon Disco" and the awkwardly named "Long Night of the disco... New Wave". Running through the magazine is a peculiar, seemingly desperate attempt to somehow link New Wave with disco and, more than anything else, the discotheque:
The New Wave phenomenon is spreading... in one way or another, it touches almost everyone. But it's still in the discotheques that it finds its natural habitat.
Fashion has been refashioned, clothes becoming as it were the elements of disguise. Anything goes... the wilder, the more outlandish the better! But one can still see blue jeans side by side with the latest New Wave craze like gold and red running shoes.
Clothes... make-up... hairdos... whatever turns you on!
The urge for disguises, to go dancing, to let it all hang out, is slowly but surely infecting the masses...

The hapless reader is told that New Wave is bringing great changes: "Some discotheques have pulled out all the stops to satisfy their clients' taste for the bizarre, some even transforming their dance floors into roller skate-dancing tracks!"

Can't say I remember Andy Partridge or Jerry Dammers on roller skates... but then, I don't remember France Joli on wheels either.

She's perched on stilettos here. Enjoy.

16 January 2010

One Band Wonder?

The Gazette, 28 November 1980

I remember Daniel Richler as lead singer of the Alpha Jerks. Did I see them at Cinema V? Was his nom de punk Kenny Lingus? Was Richler in other bands? It all seems a fog. Digging through old Montreal newspapers brings no clarity. Thomas Schnurmacher's little write-up on the Alpha Jerks is unique, an oddity that exists only because the lead singer's dad wrote Joshua Then and Now.

In those days, children – when there wasn't so much as a Montreal Mirror – we old timers relied on our student newspapers for coverage of the alternative scene. But, every once in a while, someone took a stab at starting a local music magazine. I checked these, too. Still no Alpha Jerks!

The first and only issue of Going Underground. No publication date is listed, but reviews of Soft Cell's Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret and Architecture & Morality by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark suggest the dying days of 1981.
The first issue of Clea Notar's Red She Said, published – photocopied, actually – in August 1982.
The Summer 1983 issue. I'm pretty certain that this was the end.
From 1984, "JUST ABOUT FIVE GOD DAMN YEARS IN THE MAKING", the first issue of Sugar Diet. Belated congratulations to Rick Trembles.
Q: What is Mark Hamill's photo doing in a piece on Fonda Peters (Lindalee Tracey) and the Alpha Jerks?

A: Later in Schnurmacher's column we're told that "the star of Star Wars is filming a comedy with George Burns in the wilds of Vermont, but he occasionally finds the time to party in Montreal." Apparently Hamill had drinks at Disco Charly with owner Johnny Battista, and even asked some girls to dance. How'd he do? "Most of them accepted even though they did not recognize him."

I can find no record of a Hamill/Burns collaboration.

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14 January 2010

One Book Wonder?

I've been reading Kicking Tomorrow, Daniel Richler's literary debut, published nearly two decades ago by McClelland and Stewart. Like many a first novel, it's a coming of age story... and, the author being several years older than myself, provides glimpses of a heady, trippy Anglo-Montreal scene that I just missed. I like Kicking Tomorrow, find much to admire in Richler's writing, and I want more. So, a question nags: Where is Richer's second novel? Don't get me wrong, hardly anyone has one novel in them, never mind two, it's just that the author's bio tells us to expect another.

The last I saw of "Daniel Richler, novelist" was in a 1996 episode of The Newsroom. Five years after Kicking Tomorrow was published, and it seems Richler is still obliged to do publicity. Here he has to put up with a brain-numbing interview with anchor Jim Walcott (Peter Keleghan), which in turn leads to this rant leveled at executive producer George Findlay (Ken Finkleman):

RICHLER: First, I said I would come on this show on the condition that my father is not mentioned. Not only does he mention my father, but he obsesses over this Morde-kai, Morde-hai shit. I mean, he's a fucking idiot.
FINDLAY: I know he's an idiot, but you were great. You were great.
RICHLER: The only thing he knows about my novel are the number of pages that are in it. Did he count that himself, or did somebody do that for him? Then he goes on about I took a shot at fiction. I did not take a fucking shot at fiction. I wrote a fucking novel for which I received a substantial fucking advance.
Will someone not give this man another substantial fucking advance?

Trivia: During the interview, Walcott holds up the shorter American edition, but gives the Canadian page count: "... and has taken a shot at fiction himself with a new book, which I haven't read yet, but I hear is terrific. Uh, what is it? 370... 376 pages. Almost 400 pages."

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10 January 2010

Portrait of a Former Mistress

Barbara Ladd
Charles G.D. Roberts
Boston: Page, 1902

Had he not died in 1943, or any year thereafter, Sir Charles G. D. Roberts would today be celebrating his 150th birthday. Still, he did make it more than half-way, which is more than can be said for most of his contemporaries. Right to the end, Roberts demonstrated such a great deal of energy and stamina, marrying his second wife – thirty years his junior – the month before his death.

This latter Mrs Roberts – Lady Roberts, if you prefer – most certainly had an easier time of it than her predecessor. The author cheated on his first wife constantly. For two years he carried on with Jean Carré, a Guernsey-born visual artist who came to him by way of Nova Scotia. To Roberts, sweet Jean was "she whose name is writ in music"... at least that's how he referred to her in letters written to cousin Bliss Carman.

There are lessons to be learned from this correspondence, not the least of which is to pick up the phone when dealing with matters of the heart. Roberts comes off by turns as a love-struck adolescent and an excitable fop. In the closing days of 1891, he writes his cousin, "I fear that she whose name is writ in music shall henceforth have it writ in mud!" Four months later, Roberts claims he's planning to run off with her. Of course, he did nothing of the kind, rather he replaced "she whose name is writ in music" with "the Queen of Bohemia", a tall and slim woman by the name of Maude Clarke, who also served as governess to the Roberts children.

I mention all this because Jean Carré not only designed the cover of Barbara Ladd, but served as model for the title character. Roberts did nothing to hide this connection; indeed, he was quite open about it, inscribing one copy: "The cover of this novel was designed by the lady from whom I drew the heroine of the story."

So, how does Sir Charles depict this character based on his ex-lover?

We first encounter Barbara as a nymph-like, sylph-like orphan, newly arrived in pre-Revolutionary Connecticut from Maryland. Carefree and careless, self-absorbed and intolerant, Barbara is "one of those who colour the moods of others by their own, and are therefore apt to be at fault in their interpretation of another's motives."

Like that other orphan Anne Shirley, whose story would appear in bookstores six years after Barbara Ladd, she's an unusual, unconventional girl. How unusual? How unconventional? Sir Charles treats the reader to a description of her sexually charged "mad negro" dance:
She danced with arms and hands and head and feet, and every slender curve of her young body. She moved like flames. Her eyes and lips and teeth were a radiance through the live, streaming darkness of her hair. Light, swift, unerring, ecstatic, it was like the most impassioned of bird-songs translated into terms of pure motion.
The novel has few characters. There's Barbara's Aunt Mehitable, who as a stern, joyless figure won over by her lively charge, bares a resemblance to Marilla Cuthbert. Young, talkative Richard Gault provides interaction with someone Barbara's own age. Finally, there are the doctors Jim and John, two bachelor brothers who together serve as the moral compass of the community. The two siblings spend much of the novel vying for the love of Mehitable; as in this exchange, which begins with Doctor John getting down on one knee before her "black-satin-shod small feet":
"Nothing more utilitarian than silk stockings, most dear and unexpected frivolous lady," he vowed, "shall be my tributes of devotion to you henceforth!"
"And mine shall be garters, fickle Mehitable!" cried Doctor Jim, dropping on his knee beside Doctor John, and swearing with like solemnity. "Silk garters, – and such buckles for silk garters!"
"And little silk shoes, and such big buckles for little silk shoes!" said Doctor John.
"And silk petticoats!" went on Doctor Jim, antiphonally. "Brocaded silk, flowered silk, watered silk, painted silk, corded silk, tabby silk, paduasoy silk, alamode silk, taffety silk, charrydarry –" till Mistress Mehitable put her hand over his mouth and stopped the stream of eruditions.
"And silk – and silk –" broke in Doctor John, once more, but stammeringly, because his knowledge of the feminine wardrobe was failing him.
Yes, Doctor John, best stick with shoes – buckled shoes – your brother is the petticoat expert.

Fun and fetishes are, sadly, set aside with the advent of the American Revolution. As the mood shifts, Richard declares his love for Barbara, but is rejected because he is not a Patriot. When he leaves to fight on the side of the Loyalists, she writes him off... but Roberts never writes him out. We know that it is only a matter of time before headstrong Barbara will accept Richard's love. Will it be when he's injured fighting a duel in defence of her honour? No, the moment comes only when he's lying near death in her arms... and even then, Richard feels obliged to give up his fight for George III.

For some, loyalty will always take second place to the love of a beautiful woman... no matter how headstrong she might be.

Trivia: Roberts' working title, the oddly appropriate Mistress Barbara, was changed after the 1901 publication of a Halliwell Sutcliffe novel by the same title.

Object: Voyeurs will be disappointed to learn that Carré designed the cover, but not the interior. The colour illustrations above, by Frank VerBeck, come from two of the four plates found in the first edition.

Access: For a novel that sold over 80,000 copies in the United States alone, Barbara Ladd isn't nearly as common as one might expect. A decent copy of the first edition will likely set you back C$50. As usual, library users will find universities to be the best bet. Here's to the public libraries of Toronto and Vancouver for keeping it on their shelves.

04 January 2010

Senator Frum's Cold War Campuses

Another year, another prorogation. Bracing for this season's round of senate appointments, thoughts reach back all of four months to the last batch: Conservative Party election strategist Doug Finley, Harper advisor Carolyn Stewart-Olson and Judith Seidman, who proved instrumental in Harper's victory at the 2004 leadership convention. There were many others, of course, including Linda Frum, who is now enjoying the first of her 28 years in our upper house. The daughter of Barbara, the sister of David, she hasn't exactly been a Chatty Cathy; it was not until last month that, during the debate on the Economic Action Plan, Frum rose to deliver her maiden speech. She spoke at length about her family history, her husband, her volunteer work, her views on the military, her misgivings about diplomacy and the pride she takes in having her name "associated with the Harper government". "The moral courage shown by our Prime Minister is a model to leaders around the world," she said of the man who had bravely appointed her.

Senator Frum never did get around to talking about the Action Plan – just a fleeting observation that reports are good things – but she did devote a couple of paragraphs to the decades old Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities, which holds the grand distinction of having been the subject of my very first book review. And so, I present this forgotten piece, published in the 13 November 1987 edition of the Montreal Mirror. Though I had come of age, please think of it as juvenilia.

No cover image, I'm afraid. I had to throw the book away after my dear cat Morley peed on the thing. It was his only "accident".


Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities
Linda Frum
Toronto: Key Porter, 1987

"University gave me lifelong respect for those who labour to produce a book."
– Barbara Frum, quoted in Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities

Linda Frum is her mother's daughter – and it is presumably for this reason that her name and photograph dominate the cover of this, her first book. Consider this a form of introduction.
Former McGill students might remember Frum as the editor of the short-lived McGill University Magazine, a flimsy paper with the stated goal of recapturing the traditions of Old McGill, but apparently more interested in criticizing the left and extolling its own perceived virtues of the United States.
Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities contains a few brief examples of her political thinking, including a nonsensical argument against the public funding of universities, a reference to the Contras as anti-Soviet guerillas, and this example of Reagan Era paranoia: "At every urban university there is a tiny, highly visible clique that cares passionately, but fleetingly, about El Salvador, Nicaragua, East Timor, South Africa, or whatever issue the Soviet Union is pushing at the moment."
However, for the most part, the political side of the 42 universities covered in this book is ignored – as are academic qualities. "It's not that I don't care about that stuff," Frum writes in the introduction, "but let's leave that stuff to your parents and guidance counsellor. These pages are dedicated to the subjects your family and guidance counsellor are too embarrassed or respectable to talk about."
What follows is a light-weight guide that dwells upon – among other things – the excellent parking facilities at McMaster, the beauty and wealth of the students at Western, the filthy toilets at the University of Toronto and the ease with which one can get laid at Laurentian. Also included are statistics concerning the male/female ratio on each campus, along with a handy section on which universities to attend if the student's goal is to be married by commencement.
If there is any one major flaw in all of this, it's that the author's sweeping generalizations confuse and mislead. Students at the University of Guelph are either leftists or centrists, depending upon which page one is reading. When Frum describes the typical McGill student as dressing in "outfits of all black, including dyed hair, eyebrows, lips", we Montrealers know she's exaggerating (and is really just writing about the ladies).
McGill, it is noted, is located in our fair city, and much of its attractiveness is attributed to this fact: "The best moments at McGill are spent munching on croissants and sipping cafés au lait, touring Montreal's beaux-arts palaces, getting drunk in the bistros of St-Denis, shopping for fresh groceries on St-Laurent, skiing on Mount Royal and going to hockey games at the Forum."
In Linda Frum's world, Concordia is located in a much less idyllic city – one barely worth mentioning. It is a rough place, attracting "off-the-map left", ""off-beat, unconventional characters", most of whom are ethnics who live with their parents.
Inexplicably, the Université de Montréal, the Université de Québec à Montréal and the country's other French language universities are not even mentioned. What can we read from this? That anglophones never attend francophone universities? That Frum knows no French? Is the exclusion in itself a political statement?
Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities can only disappoint. While friends and foes of the McGill University Magazine will lament the near-absence of Frum's entertaining political views, serious students will invariably discover that his or her chosen university bears little resemblance to the one described in his book. Those who have chosen Laurentian will be the most disappointed.



Twenty-three years later, Senator Linda Frum discusses Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities. with Cathrin Bradbury of Maclean's (19 November 2010):
Q: You called York University “ugly, impersonal, bleak, isolated and depressing.”
A: I was there recently, and they have tried very hard to change that. Actually, they’ve put up some quite wonderful buildings.
And now this, from the 15 November 2003 Globe and Mail profile of Howard Sokolowski, Linda Frum's husband:
Mr. Sokolowski, 51, builds homes by the thousands, mainly in the 905 belt, through his company, Tribute Communities. He is the guy who "doesn't put the garage door in the front of the house," he says; his latest venture is what he calls an "integrated" community of 500 homes near York University.
Again, Linda Frum is a Stephen Harper appointee.