30 April 2011

25 April 2011

One Long, Tedious Suicide Note

Death Be My Destiny
Neil H. Perrin [pseud. Danny Halperin]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

The most interesting thing about Death Be My Destiny is that it begins with protagonist Karel Martin setting himself up as a teenage bellhop/pimp. The misbehaviour and misadventure that follow can be described with fair detail in five sentences. I know this to be true because I did just that in an early draft of this post. Bland and simple, like the novel, the synopsis isn't worth reading.

That Death Be My Destiny followed This Was Joanna, the first Neil H. Perrin book, by just two months, might explain its failings. Like many pulp novels, it starts strongly, then wanders weakly, eventually becoming nothing more than fragments as it crawls toward the final sentence: "Tomorrow you will read in the papers that I died by my own hand." You see, there's a gimmick to all this; Death Be My Destiny presents itself as the autobiography of a man who is about to put a gun to his head.

To reach that messy ending, Halperin – or Perrin, if you prefer – peppers the novel with some pretty good lines, none of which quite fit. "When you cut a friend's throat never use a dull knife," seems clever until one realizes that Karel has no friends. What's more, the advice is used to close a chapter in which no throats not figuratively, not literally are cut.

As with This Was Joanna and the strikingly bizarre The Door Between, the most interesting writing concerns sex:
What happened between us was, technically, absolute perfection. Marcia, in those hushed hours of the night, was mine as completely as she was ever, could ever, belong to anyone. Her little flushed cries of joy were like a sweet oil lavished over my battered ego, and my conceit flowered mightily as, enraptured, she surrendered.
I felt nothing. Her joy was dust in my mouth. Her very real tremors seemed slightly comical to me as if the carnality was a circus with Marcia the fragile clown and I the phony ringmaster cracking his terrible whip.
There is fun to be found in passages like this, but here they are few and far between.

What more to say? Death Be My Destiny passes by like Karel Martin's life, not worthy of mention. So, I leave off – as I always do with Perrin – by recommending The Door Between, that weird and wonderful follow-up to Death Be My Destiny.

Oh, one last thing: Karel's revolver might be loaded, but you'll note that it has no trigger.

Object: I've gone on a bit about News Stand Library's shoddy production standards – here and here and here and here and here and here but this is the worst of the lot. A difficult book to read in more ways than one, the print blurs, fades and at times disappears completely. Good on NSL for spelling the author's nom de plume correctly.

Access: Death Be My Destiny is an uncommon book, but it's also a bargain. The four copies currently listed online can each be had for under fourteen dollars. Of the world's libraries, academic and otherwise, it appears that only Library and Archives Canada holds a copy.

23 April 2011

To the Lighthouse!

Anne's House of Dreams
L. M. Montgomery
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, n.d.

19 April 2011

Margaret's Marriage in Mass Market

Margaret Trudeau: The Prime Minister's Runaway Wife
Felicity Cochrane
Scarborough, ON: Signet, 1978

Anyone needing a reminder of the crap once thrown at Margaret Trudeau need only look to Kate McMillan and the comments made under cover of pseudonym at her Small Dead Animals blog. Revelations of Mrs Trudeau's decades-long struggles with bipolar disorder have brought neither compassion nor reconsideration – but did serve as more carrion to chew, digest and defecate.

Published after the stuff first hit the fan, Margaret Trudeau: The Prime Minister's Runaway Wife is a product of a more civil time. It presents itself as a sympathetic account, while promising to dish the dirt. In the end, however, this is a book that teases, but never delivers. "The full, completely uncensored story of Margaret Trudeau's relationship with the different members of the Rolling Stones," ends up being little more than an overview of the seating arrangements at the 1977 El Mocambo gigs. Felicity Cochrane wasn't there, yet she still manages to paint a memorable scene:
This was the Stones' first club appearance since 1964, and as in the past, Jagger eventually whipped up the crowd into a convulsing hysteria with jerks of his hips, thrusts of his pelvis, and grasshopper-like gyrations guaranteed to induce mass orgasm.
Sounds messy.

The author next provides details of the painstaking preparations made to fête Peter Rudge, "manager of the Stones" (touring manager, actually) on his birthday. Mrs Trudeau didn't attend the party, but never mind.

Want to know why Pierre Trudeau didn't marry until his 53rd year? The cover copy promises the answer. And here's what Ms Cochrane has to say: "It has always been a mystery why Pierre didn't marry. It will always be open to speculation."

Thin stuff for a thin book; there's nothing hadn't already been reported at the time of its August 1978 publication. And yet, the author tells us that she spent "almost a year in interviews and research". Cochrane can't tell us who she spoke to – "for obvious reasons" – but does express appreciation for the Greater Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau. I doubt this was reciprocated. Here's the author on Margaret Sinclair Trudeau's birthplace:
Vancouver, where the Sinclairs settled, is a port city in the southwest corner of British Columbia, on what is now called the Pacific Rim. It was discovered by a British naval officer, Captain George Vancouver, in 1792, became a British colony in 1859, and was admitted into confederation in 1871. The original name of the city was Granville, but this was changed to Vancouver in 1886.
I count five factual errors. How about you?

We're also told that Vancouver has a daily called the Providence, its West End is comprised of highways and modern shopping complexes, and that the "famous Lion's [sic] Gate Bridge links West Vancouver to the lower mainland."

Great swaths of this 174-page book are devoted to the Canadian parliamentary system, the office of prime minister, and the early history of Simon Fraser University (also located in the southwest corner of British Columbia, on what is now called the Pacific Rim). Cochrane quotes liberally – no pun intended – lifting passages from dozens of news stories, all the while criticizing journalists for not having been more dogged in their pursuit of scandale.

Strange this, because without the uncredited, unacknowledged work of the fourth estate Cochrane would have had no book. She brings nothing to the table, and yet she had once been a reporter for Newsday. A Progressive Conservative, in the 1965 federal election she challenged veteran Liberal Stanley Haidasz in Toronto-Parkdale. Cochrane placed a very distant second, but made the news anyway by breaking her leg in a fall down some slippery polling station steps on election day.

The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, 10 November 1965

Cochrane jetted around the globe promoting Canadian honey, cheese and maple syrup for the Federal Department of Trade and Commerce. She also served as chaperone for 1966 Canadian Dairy Princess Gaylene Miller, but I think that the most interesting point in her career began in 1970 with her role as "personal manager" for Dianna – Dianna Boileau – whom she billed as "Canada's first sex change". Two years later, Cochrane wrote Dianna's story, Behold, I Am a Woman. It was published by New York's Pyramid Books, whose copywriters penned this pitch: "The story you are about to read will quite possibly shock you in its brutal frankness and graphic descriptions. It will startle you as it reveals a way of life and a way of sexual being that seem beyond the range of the normal imagination. And it will move you to a new kind of realization of the torments a sexual deviant must suffer in our society – as well as the hope that new medical techniques offer a person like Dianna, to at last find fulfillment."

Margaret Trudeau was Cochrane's second and final book. Not a happy experience, it seems. Even as the paperback was hitting the stands, Ms Cochrane was complaining that Signet's lawyers had made her take out the juiciest bits. Could Margaret Trudeau have been a better book? Had Felicity Cochrane dug up anything new? Shall we give her the benefit of the doubt?

Nearly four decades later, we know that it wasn't Margaret and Mick, but Margaret and Ronnie – both have said as much in their respective autobiographies. Should we have read anything into this?
The following day, a small get-together was held in the Rolling Stones' suite at the Harbour Castle Hotel. Margaret joined the group, sitting on the edge of the bed, and proceeded to watch the hockey game on TV, at the same time playing with Ron Wood's seven-year-old son. One guest who was there recalls that the little boy gave the impression he already knew Margaret quite well.
Object and Access: An unattractive mass market paperback, Signet claimed that the book was reprinted three times, totalling 170,000 copies. I've yet to find a one that indicates it is anything but a first printing. Very few booksellers have listed the book online; it's hardly worth the trouble. They're dreaming of sales ranging from $2 to $6.50. Six copies are held in Canadian libraries, academic and otherwise, but that's it. A French-language edition was published the same year by Éditions de l'Homme.

Related post:

16 April 2011

Souvenirs of the Eastern Townships

A favourite of the thirty images in A Gentleman of Pleasure, this 1940 photograph captures John Glassco riding outside the Eastern Townships community of Knowlton. Seated next to him is his "housekeeper" Sappho, Mary Elizabeth Wilson, the third in one of several ménages à trois he enjoyed with Graeme Taylor.

A week ago, A Gentleman of Pleasure was launched at Knowlton's Brome Lake Books. Driving home the next day, I snapped these photos.

The Knowlton United Church, where on 18 February 1941 Taylor married Sappho. The union was witnessed by Glassco and the minister's wife.

In a letter to his friend Robert McAlmon, Glassco wrote that after the ceremony he joined the newlyweds in consuming "the last champagne in the district". Sappho left the two men in 1944 – she divorced Taylor five years later.

Jamaica Farm, Glassco's first home in the village of Foster. In 1945, he moved into this yellow farmhouse with Taylor. The two men lived alone until 1956, when they were joined by Elma Koolmer, another "housekeeper". Roughly six months later, Taylor died of Buerger's Disease in Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital.

Glassco's second and last Foster house, built in 1966 for Elma. Five years later, he would scatter her ashes in a stream that can be seen from the rear windows.

Crossposted at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

15 April 2011

Bliss Carman at 150

Bliss Carman
(15 April 1861 – 8 June 1929)

The End of the Trail

Once more the hunters of the dusk
Are forth to search the moorlands wide,
Among the autumn-colored hills,
And wander by the shifting tide.

All day along the haze-hung verge
They scour upon a fleeing trace,
Between the red sun and the sea.
Where haunts the vision of your face.

The plane at Martock lies and drinks
The long Septembral gaze of blue;
The royal leisure of the hills
Hath wayward reveries of you.

Far rovers of the ancient dream
Have all their will of musing hours:
Your eyes were gray-deep as the sea,
Your hands lay open in the flowers!

From mining Rawdon to Pereau,
For all the gold they delve and share,
The goblins of the Ardise hills
Can horde no treasure like your hair.

The swirling tide, the lonely gulls,
The sweet low wood-winds that rejoice—
No sound nor echo of the sea
But hath tradition of your voice.

The crimson leaves, the yellow fruit.
The basking woodlands mile on mile—
No gleam in all the russet hills
But wears the solace of your smile.

A thousand cattle rove and feed
On the great marshes in the sun,
And wonder at the restless sea;
But I am glad the year is done.

Because I am a wanderer
Upon the roads of endless quest,
Between the hill-wind and the hills,
Along the margin men call rest.

Because there lies upon my lips
A whisper of the wind at morn,
A murmur of the rolling sea
Cradling the land where I was born;

Because its sleepless tides and storms
Are in my heart for memory
And music, and its gray-green hills
Run white to bear me company;

Because in that sad time of year,
With April twilight on the earth
And journeying rain upon the sea,
With the shy windflowers was my birth;

Because I was a tiny boy
Among the thrushes of the wood,
And all the rivers in the hills
Were playmates of my solitude;

Because the holy winter night
Was for my chamber, deep among
The dark pine forests by the sea,
With woven red auroras hung,

Silent with frost and floored with snow,
With what dream folk to people it
And bring their stories from the hills,
When all the splendid stars were lit;

Therefore I house me not with kin.
But journey as the sun goes forth,
By stream and wood and marsh and sea,
Through dying summers of the North;

Until, some hazy autumn day.
With yellow evening in the skies
And rime upon the tawny hills.
The far blue signal smoke shall rise,

To tell my scouting foresters
Have heard the clarions of rest
Bugling, along the outer sea.
The end of failure and of quest.

Then all the piping Nixie folk,
Where lonesome meadow winds are low,
Through all the valleys in the hills
Their river reeds shall blow and blow,

To lead me like a joy, as when
The shining April flowers return,
Back to a footpath by the sea
With scarlet hip and ruined fern.

For I must gain, ere the long night
Bury its travelers deep with snow,
That trail among the Ardise hills
Where first I found you years ago.

I shall not fail, for I am strong,
And Time is very old, they say,
And somewhere by the quiet sea
Makes no refusal to delay.

There will I get me home, and there
Lift up your face in my brown hand.
With all the rosy rusted hills
About the heart of that dear land.

11 April 2011

The Jacket, the Dressing Gown and the Closet

Dark Passions Subdue
Douglas Sanderson
New York: Dodd, Mead, 1952
This is an unpleasant novel filled with unpleasant characters, but you musn't complain. The dust jacket cautions: "Mr. Sanderson is a terrifying critic of the social scene. His Montreal frauds can be found in big cities everywhere. His hero's crisis is the crisis not of an individual, but of an era."
A hero, a crisis... it's hard to identify either. The protagonist of this, Sanderson's debut, is Stephen Hollis, a young McGill student who lives with his wealthy, pious, Protestant parents in post-war Westmount. He's handsome and he's intelligent, but the reader will find that this poor little rich boy has the personality of a cinder block. To the characters in this novel, however, Stephen is very attractive indeed. Everybody, male and female, wants to be his friend – while he cares for no one.
And then Stephen meets Fabien, a sophisticated Noel Coward sort of figure who never leaves his large, luxuriously decorated Montreal house. Young, well-groomed and impeccably dressed, Fabien is a bon vivant who is always at the ready with a bon mot or catty remark. He is a comfortably directionless aesthete, content to bathe in the delights of fine wine and his intimate entourage of attractive young men. This includes Duncan, a perpetually shirtless dancer, whom Fabien has not only taken into his home, but supports financally.
Here I'm about to spoil things for the potential reader:
It's not true that Stephen's "crisis is the crisis not of an individual, but of an era" – quite the opposite, in fact. The moment comes with just pages to go when he professes his love for Fabien. Stephen begs to be held, Stephen is rejected. It is only then, when attempting physical intimacy, that Stephen learns Fabien is not a "queer".
"Whoops! Stevie dear, Whoopsie!" says Crystal, who reveals herself as Fabien's girlfriend.
Fabien himself is not nearly as goodnatured: "You fool! You bloody fool! You misunderstand me. I am a foreigner." Because, you see, foreigners are often mistaken for homosexuals.
What is a surprise to Stephen was also a surprise to me. Sanderson is guilty of toying with the reader; playing upon stereotype in order to deceive. Here, for example, is our first glimpse of Fabien.
Up on the landing a shaft of light appeared from an opening door and a figure, smoking a cigarette and wearing a bronze-colored Charvet dressing gown, emerged, advanced, and leaned nonchalantly over the bannister. The voice was as pleasantly languid as the pose.
"Greetings, you infamous cow. You won't mind if I mention that I cooked a perfectly delicious Lobster Newburg and opened a bottle of Chablis?"
Duncan laughed. "I beg your pardon."
"Granted, of course."
"I was out with a woman. She wanted to know if I was an intellectual."
"You are, my dear. Far too. Did you convince her?"
"I don't know. I went home with her and she offered me some wine." He sat down on the bottom stair. "I suppose there is no way of helping anyone. That poor lonely woman. Christ, it was ghastly." He burst into tears.
The figure did not move. The voice softened. "Come upstairs and have a shower and tell me all about it, my pet. And let that great heart bleed for the world if it must, but please, please don't weep on the staircase. It simply isn't done. Come now."
Dear Duncan – in tears again. Earlier in the evening he'd wept while rejecting the advances of beautiful Westmount matron Miriam:
"I can't," he said, his breath was coming in sobs; "I'm sorry, but I can't." His hands were over his face, muffling his voice so that she could barely understand what he was saying.
"No, it's no use. I tried, honestly. When you came into the room I told myself I could do it because I was a man."
But you see, Duncan, a Scot, is also a foreigner.
In terms of sales, Dark Passions Subdue went nowhere. My copy appears to have been marked down several times with no takers. Reviews were awful and tended to be a touch unfair. Writing in Saturday Night, B.K. Sandwell chose to concentrate on the author's errors when writing French dialogue. One wonders whether The New York Times' John Brooks read the book at all; he describes it as a "first novel about a young couple living in Montreal."
The commercial and critical disappointment caused Sanderson to reinvent himself as a mystery writer. As "Martin Brett", the next year he published Exit in Green, which was followed by the wonderful, noirish Hot Freeze (1954).
Trivia: Credit for the dust jacket's design goes to H. Lawrence Hoffman. No great fan, I've always found Hoffman's work pretty forgettable, though his cover for the first edition of Mickey Spillane's The Long Wait (1951) does stick in the mind.
Access: Not found in a single public library in Canada. Eight university libraries come through for us, but not McGill. Five copies of the first and only hardcover edition are currently listed for sale online, ranging from C$10 (crummy, ex-library copy) to US$112.50 ("Very Good", although the accompanying description leans toward Good). The 1953 Avon paperback also first and only seems just as uncommon: five copies ranging in price from US$13 to US$46. Sadly, in purchasing the paperback one misses out on on the moralizing found on the hardcover's jacket copy. That said, you do get this: "Young Stephen Hollis discovered the irrevocable truth of his lack of normal maleness."
"Sexy Cover Art", says one bookseller. Not in my opinion.
Each to his own, I suppose.

07 April 2011

'O martyr'd McGee!'

Thomas D'Arcy McGee
13 April 1825 - 7 April 1868

A stray tribute "from the pen of an accomplished Catholic priest of Pennsylvania", collected in The Poems of Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Sadlier, 1870).

Related posts:

04 April 2011

A Gentleman of Pleasure is Recognized

The first review of A Gentleman of Pleasure today – this from literary historian, antiquarian bookseller and author Stephen J. Gertz.
...A Gentleman of Pleasure is the long-awaited biography of Glassco, one of the most fascinating characters of twentieth century literature in English yet one, for the most part, completely unknown. That should change with this thoroughly researched, engaging, and elegantly written book.
How to honour the occasion? Why with a previously unpublished photo of John Glassco and Graeme Taylor strolling along the boardwalk in Nice, of course.

Crossposted at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

01 April 2011

A Local Poet is Recognized

And so another National Poetry Month begins. In little St Marys we'll be kicking things off with James MacRae Poetry Night, a free event at Stewart Books, the town's lone bookstore. An historic evening, it will feature what is likely be the first public reading of the man's verse. The Friends of the St Marys Public Library will be raising funds through the sale of this 24-page chapbook. It's cheap at $5 – and with a numbered print-run of only 40 copies, is sure to be sought-after by future generations.

More MacRae (né MacDonald) to whet the appetite:
Written in the House of a Quarrelsome Wife and Drunken Husband

Oh! What pleasure it would be
To reach the gates of hell
For those who in a place like this
For many years must dwell.

Good angels, if ye ever weep,
Here drop one pitying tear;
But, demons, dare not tread this place,
If woman’s rage ye fear.