29 May 2013

A Man, a Plan, a Dam – Labrador!

Fermez la porte, on gèle
René Carrier
Westmount, QC: Desclez, 1981

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:
A Journey Through Canada's
Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through

Related posts:

27 May 2013

Selling From a Sea She'll Only Drag You Down

From a Seaside Town
Norman Levine
London: Macmillan, 1970
Challenge: Draw attention to a neglected, critically acclaimed novel by a neglected, critically acclaimed writer.

Solution: Title change. Bare breasts. 

Don Mills, ON: Paperjacks, 1975
Did it work? The copy pictured above is the only one I've ever come across. 

Subsequent editions – much more common – follow Macmillan's example.

Ottawa: Deneau & Greenberg, 1980
Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 1993

The alternate title explained:

24 May 2013

The Year of Grade School Readers, Cute Kittens and Dead Anglos Hanging in the Streets of Montreal

That would be 1968, the very same year in which Canadian Notes & Queries made its debut. It was my honour to become the first contributor to 'CNQ Timeline', a new feature in which writers reflect on a specific year in Canadian literature.

Nineteen-sixty-eight just happens to be the year in which I learned to read. This was my first book:

Surprises and Mr. Whiskers, its sequel, seem of a different world. This illustration captures Jack, the protagonist, travelling in the family car without seatbelt!

But then 1968 was a different world, wasn't it. Those too young to remember should consider this headline from the Vancouver Sun:

That 'B.C. Mother of Three' would be Alice Munro, who took home the 1968 Governor General's Award for Dance of the Happy Shades, her first book. In the 'CNQ Timeline' piece I refer to that years's GGs as the most disastrous in the awards' history. I'll happily take on anyone who thinks otherwise.


The first book I ever read from 1968 was Bruce Powe's Killing Gound. The cover to that edition, published in 1977 by PaperJacks...

...was much more tame than the original, pseudonymous Peter Martin Associates edition.

Not my 1968. Not the Canada I knew then. Not the Canada I know now.

I'm being polite here. My less than polite writing on Killing Ground can be found in magazine itself.

Subscriptions – a mere $20 – can be had here.

Related post:

22 May 2013

Tan Ming's Disappointing Post-Apocalyptic World

The new Canadian Notes & Queries has landed, bringing with it another Dusty Bookcase column. The eighth to date, it's a review of Tan Ming, a fantastic, post-apocalyptic, pseudonymously self-published novel by electric organ pioneer Morse Robb.

So dull.

Oh, but doesn't Tan Ming look good? How about that cover!

It sounded good, too. In Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction 1895-1984, Washington State University professor Paul Brians begins his description thusly: "An amusing fantasy in which a department store window dresser falls in love with a robot mannequin and manages to conjure into its body the soul of a princess named Tan Ming from a postholocaust future." The ever-reliable Wikipedia once claimed that the novel inspired Mannequin, the romantic comedy starring Kim Cattrell and Andrew McCarthy.


You'll remember Mannequin for "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now", which topped the American charts back in 1987. The new CNQ comes with music – much better music – in the form of a flexidisc by Al Tuck.

When was the last time you bought a magazine with a flexidisc?

The last I picked up was the April 1981 issue of Smash Hits. It came with a live recording of "Pretending to See the Future" by Orchestral Maneoeuvres in the Dark and "Swing Shift" by our own Nash the Slash.

Not to slight Hazel O'Connor  – or Messrs Lydon, Levine, Wobble and Weller  – but don't you prefer this?

The cover, as always, is by Seth. Inside you'll find Mike Barnes, Michel Basilières, Devon Code, Michael Deforge, Emily Donaldson, Jennifer A. Franssen, Lorna Jackson, Mark Anthony Jarman, Evan Jones, Adrian Michael Kelly, Mark Kingwell, Lewis MacLeod, Marion MacLeod, David Mason, Ross McKie, Robert Melançon, Shame Nielson, Patricia Robertson, Ray Robertson, Sean Rogers, Mark Sampson, Michael Schmidt, Norm Sibum, Dan Wells, Paul Wells, Bruce Whiteman and Robert Wiersema.

At $20 per annum, subscriptions are a great deal. You can get one here.

16 May 2013

One Last Time in Montreal

A Dum-Dum for the President
Martin Brett [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
London: Hammond, 1961

Depending on how you want to look at it, A Dum-Dum for the President is the third or fourth Mike Garfin mystery. Either way, it's an unexpected return. The last we saw of the private investigator was in The Darker Traffic (1954), though a fairly strong case can be made that he reappears as "Bill Yates" in The Deadly Dames (1956). In the years since, it seemed that Sanderson had not only left  Garfin, but his beloved Montreal behind. The city that provides the setting for five of the novelist's first seven novels, receives not so much as a mention in the nine that followed.

Nine novels, five years, and no Montreal... then came A Dum-Dum for the President. It has all the elements of a typical Mike Garfin novel: a hot female, a high body count and more than a few digs at the city's wealthiest. As in the dick's previous adventures, there is a stench of homophobia, tempered somewhat by Garfin's man crush:
He was middle aged, medium eight, broad as an ox and had hands like a stevedore. One finger wore a conspicuous gold ring in the shape of a South American Indian head that must have weighed a quarter of a pound but on him did not look flashy. Patent slippers, good quality trousers, a white silk stock at his neck, a blue-silk dressing gown with the monogram M.B. on the breast pocket. His eyes were the color of chestnut peel. There was no trace of grey in his curly black hair. He was powerful in every sense of the word and damn near overwhelmed me.
This man, who Garfin tells us "radiated power like heat coming from an open furnace", is Manuel Bordera. A deposed Latin American dictator, he hides under an assumed name in a Mount Royal mansion, planning his next coup d'état. Such is the crush that Garfin all too readily sides with loyalists who counter that the stories of torture, murder and corruption are nothing but lies. Before you judge our dick, consider those chestnut peel-coloured irises:
His eyes glowed warm with buddy-buddy friendship. It was like undergoing invisible heat. I almost spread my arms and burst into blossom.
A Dum-Dum for the President is no love that dare not speak its name story. The relationship between dick and dictator is purely professional, with Bordera hiring our hero to hold a key that may or may not free $100 million. The first hint that things are beginning to go awry comes when Garfin arrives home to find the cops looking over a corpse in the nearby alleyway. My own detective work places the dead man a block or so from Chalet Bar-B-Q.

There's violence. Unpleasantness, such unpleasantness. Sentences are short. Talk is cheap. Longer passages bring things like this:
He was on his back. I knelt before him. Fat flakes of snow drifted down between the trees and melted on his face. His head was to one side. His mouth gaped in idiocy. The porcelain caps had been shattered by a smack in the face and the grinning tooth-stumps made him look like a circus clown playing a joke.
Une image forte, it's one of many in what becomes an increasingly fast-paced and messy investigation. The final scene brings clarity from chaos, and features some of Sanderson's very best writing. Any disappointment comes from the sad fact that Garfin's girlfriend Tessie, the best character in the series, is gone. The last we see of the private investigator he's alone, walking in the snow toward a cabin outside Mont Tremblant. It's a sad, yet appropriate end to not only Garfin but Montreal's post-war noir.

The Wisdom of Mike Garfin:
The man tired of a Canadian autumn is tired of life.
Object: The cover image above belongs to the 1961 Hammond first edition. As is so often the case, the scene depicted does not take place in the book.

Published 45 years later, my copy of the novel – a Stark House Mystery Classic – comes coupled with The Deadly Dames. It features an Introduction by Kevin Burton Smith, and an interview with the late author.

Access: It's been years since I've seen a copy of the Hammond edition offered online. While the Stark House edition is happily in print, there is no Canadian distributor. I bought my copy down south.

If WorldCat is anything to go by, only one Canadian library – the Robarts at the University of Toronto – has the first edition. All our libraries fail when it comes to the Stark House edition. Bibliothèques de Montréal take note.

A French translation, Estocade au Canada, was published in 1961 by Gallimard. There's not a copy to be found in any Canadian library.

Related posts:

13 May 2013

Gloria Swanson's Subway Scene

A follow-up to Friday's post on Manhandled:

Time was you could see the classic silent film online. No more. At some point last week it was pulled from YouTube. The short segment above has somehow escaped notice. Here is Gloria Swanson's comedic genius in full flight under the direction of Toronto boy Allan Dwan.

Dwan is neglected in this country, but not in the United States. Next month – for the second time – the director will be recognized with an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art. This year's retrospective, Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios, draws its title from a new biography by Frederic Lombardi.

Manhandled will screen on June 15 and 16. Buy a ticket and you'll see Swanson's take on Chaplin's Little Tramp – a full quarter-century before she reprised the role in Sunset Boulevard.

For now, take a peek at the clip above. One of the funniest moments in the history of silent film begins at 1:06. You'll not find it in Arthur Stringer's original story, or in the photoplay novel; credit belongs entirely to Dwan and Swanson.

Lombardi provides a good amount of detail on how it came to be, but it would be spoiling things to share it here.

See the movie. Read the book.

Related post:

10 May 2013

Gloria Gets Groped

Arthur Stringer and Russell Holman
London: Readers Library, [n.d]

Arthur Stringer and Russell Holman
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1924 

Manhandled gives good example as to why it is that Arthur Stringer is so frowned upon by CanLit academics. It sprang not from the lush farmland that surrounds Chatham and London, Ontario, his duelling hometowns, but the offices of Famous Players-Lasky in downtown Manhattan. General Sales Manager Sidney R. Kent came up with the idea, Stringer was hired to add flesh, and then everything was passed on to screenwriter Frank Tuttle.

Our Ontarian was given $1000 for his efforts, along with the right to turn the tale into something of substance to sell to the glossies. The first the world saw of Manhandled appeared as a 26,000-word short story in the March 22 and 29 issues of The Saturday Evening Post. This novel is that short story, expanded by Russell Holman, a writer who had a talent for turning American silents into entertaining text.

Manhandled is a Gloria Swanson vehicle, written long before the word had ever been used in that sense. It tells the story of Tess McGuire, the orphaned daughter of a comedic vaudeville team, beginning with her childhood in Marysville, a picturesque, perfect New England town found only in popular fiction. Though raised by a cautious, conservative spinster aunt – think latter-day Marilla Cuthbert – Tess grows to become a beautiful, adventurous young woman who looks to live a life in the visual or dramatic arts. That pursuit takes her to New York, where she rents a room in the very same house as high school sweetheart Jim.

Now, don't you go spreading gossip; the most that happens between the two is a fleeting kiss. Jimmy aches to make Tess his wife, while she keeps putting him off :
"I wouldn't be satisfied with what you can give me – yet. I may be selfish, but it's better that I should tell you how I feel about it. It'll save us both a lot of pain."

Tess wants to make it on Broadway, but doesn't really try. After her one and only attempt at getting an agent, she accepts a job selling "soiled" lingerie in the bargain basement of Thorndyke's. Tess may be a subterranean shopgirl, but such is her beauty that she's soon drinking hootch with such well-known figures as artist Robert Brandt, Wall Street banker Luther Swett, bestselling author Carl Garretson and, of course, department store heir Chip Thorndyke.

As Jim, the rube boyfriend, works nights on a carburetor that might one day make him rich, Tess is wined, dined, danced and driven on innumerable automobile trips by men with wandering eyes and busy hands. Her only acting gig comes by accident, the result of imitating an exiled Russian aristocrat at a drunken party. A week later, passing herself off as countess "Madam Patovska", she's playing hostess, pouring tea at Manhattan's most exclusive dress shop.

Tess is forced to defend herself to Jim:
"Will you tell me what the successes in this town are founded on? As I begin to see it, they're founded on bluff. It's the best window-dresser that gets by. Ten chances to one your boss is getting by on the very same game. I know mine is. The mayor probably is. The lawyers and bankers and swells and business men certainly are. So, why shouldn't I do my little share of it?"
Garretson, "the jitney George Moore", is more understanding. "The forest is too thick for you to see the trees", he tells Tess. "But you're on your way through. And sellers in a brisk market don't stop to wash mud from their tulips."

Tess doesn't get it. She will... and we know she will. Sidney R. Kent's simple idea was to bring an oft-told story, that of a country girl at risk of being corrupted by the big city, to a new medium. His greatest contribution was a title that was sure to sell. CanLit academics will point out that it was a brisk market.

Trivia: Early in the novel, Tess goes to see a Gloria Swanson film and is manhandled:
Tess would've enjoyed the picture, a Gloria Swanson society-drama, and shared Claire's raputurous remarks about the star's elaborate wardrobe, had Walter Hovey kept his obtrusive knees and his wandering hands more to himself.
Object: A small hardcover in thin brown boards, the Readers Library edition is printed on newsprint. Though touted a "Film Edition", the only element having to do with the Swanson vehicle is the dust jacket. The Grosset and Dunlap edition, on the other hand, features a generous eight plates of promotional shots.

Access: The Grosset & Dunlap and Readers Library editions were joined by a Hutchinson hardcover in 1925. Copies of all three are available online from booksellers in the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland and Belgium. At £3.20, the cheapest is a Good copy, sans jacket, of the Hutchinson edition. The most expensive - US$85 - is a Readers Library.

Nine of our university libraries have the Grosset & Dunlop edition, the University of Guelph has the Hutchinson, but no Canadian library has a copy of the Readers Library. Our public libraries, Library and Archives Canada included, have nothing at all.

Related post:

07 May 2013

Frank Prewett on Canvas and Paper (w/ updates)

Frank Prewett ranks amongst the very best of the Great War poets. Anyone looking to challenge this statement should consider the poem at the end of this post. That Frank Prewett was also Canadian explains why it is that our media has ignored entirely two items being auctioned tomorrow afternoon at Bonham's on London's New Bond Street as part 'The Roy Davids Collection'.

I appreciate that Four Weddings and a Funeral fans will be attracted to the autograph manuscript copy of Auden's 'Stop All the Clocks' – already sold for £23,750 – but for me the gem is the  Prewett portrait above. Bonham's estimates that it will go for £1500 to £2000 – six to eight percent of the Auden poem, £642,790 less than the cost of airlifting Mr Harper's limousine to India. Painted in 1923, the work of Prewett's lover Dorothy Brett, it once belonged to Siegfried Sassoon.

I'd not seen it before, nor had I seen this other Prewett item:

Anyone know it?


More to the point, is there anyone out there who can bring these items home?

                     Hearing the whine and crash
                     We hastened out
                     And found a few poor men
                     Lying about. 
                     I put my hand in the breast
                     Of the first met.
                     His heart thumped, stopped, and I drew
                     My hand out wet. 
                     Another, he seemed a boy,
                     Rolled in the mud
                     Screaming "my legs, my legs,"
                     And he poured out his blood.
                     We bandaged the rest
                     And went in,
                     And started again at our cards
                     Where we had been.

The following day: Well, it turned out that both portrait and poem realized more than was estimated – £2500 and £1750 respectively. No word yet on the purchaser. Dare I hope that it was the Canadian War Museum? Yes, I dare.

Bruce Meyer, co-editor of Selected Poems of Frank Prewett, tells me that he doesn't recognize the auctioned poem.

And the day after that: I'm informed that the Canadian War Museum was the successful bidder. I could not be more pleased.

Related post:

03 May 2013

Michel Tremblay's Macabre Juvenilia

Stories for Late Night Drinkers
     [Contes pour buveurs attardés]
Michel Tremblay [trans. Michael Bullock]
Vancouver: Intermedia, 1977

Having raised more than a few glasses after hours on St-Laurent, St-Denis and Mont-Royal, I thought I might have some small idea of what to expect here. I was so very wrong. The stories in this translation of Michel Tremblay's first book are set far, far away, in both time and place, from the streets of his Montreal; castles and dark mansions take the places of modest apartments and rooming houses.

Poe and Lovecraft are in evidence. In the first of these twenty-five stories, a caretaker keeps watch over a hanged man left dangling until dawn. In the wee hours, the body sighs and begins to move. Minutes later it's laughing, swinging so violently that the rope breaks and it falls to the ground. The caretaker flees. He returns the next day with the prison governor to find a headless corpse. The upper extremity, of course, is never found.

Stories for Late Night Drinkers was written between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. Tremblay has been fairly dismissive of the whole thing. "I wrote fantastic stuff until I was twenty-three. Pretty bad, all that," he told Jean Royer. And yet, he has allowed reprint after reprint.
It's not his best work, but I found it entertaining. You see, though we're not of the same generation, I saw something of my own youth in this juvenilia. Though, sadly, there was no Poe in mine, at ten I was subsumed by Ghosts, House of Secrets, House of Mystery and The Witching Hour. I've not read anything quite so similar since.

As Tremblay told Royer, "we were all brought up in a country where culture was something exotic and it came from somewhere else." Like the author, I was in my mid-twenties before I realized otherwise.

Object: A trade-size paperback. My copy once belonged to John Glassco, and includes this careless note in his hand:

Of the thirty-five hundred or so Canadian books in my library, this is the only one published by Intermedia.

Doesn't the company's logo look like it belongs to a 'seventies underground comic book publisher?

Maybe it's just me.

Access: Our academic libraries do well, as do those serving the fine folks of Toronto and Vancouver. Montreal fails.

Contes pour buveurs attardés, the French original, was first published in 1966 by Éditions le Jour (right). It's published today by Bibliothèque Québécoise. Though Stories for Late Night Drinkers hasn't been quite so fortunate, its publication history isn't shameful. The first printing, amounting to one thousand copies, sold out... as did the second. Intermedia went back to the printers a third time, but that's the end. It has been out of print for well over thirty years.

There is good news in that decent used copies can be bought as little as ten dollars. Ignore the Vancouver bookseller offering a crummy stamped and stickered ex-library copy at US$48.00 (w/ an additional US$16.50 for shipping within Canada).

01 May 2013

Montreal Noir on Film

For your pleasure, Jean Palardy and Arthur Burrows' 1947 Montreal by Night. Filmed in glorious black and white, here is the city of Al PalmerDavid Montrose, Brian MooreMartin Brett and – ahemRicochet Books.

It's a city of bright neon and dark, nefarious doings. This frame captures a night watchman "hurrying to answer a wrong number." Hmm...

At 4:55 we're introduced to Colette, who like Gisele Lepine in Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street, is "one of many who left the farms and villages of Quebec to seek work in Montreal."

But while Colette "works with three thousand other girls in a cigarette factory", Gisele finds employment as a hoofer at one of the city's nightclubs... as did this young lady:

Sadly, there are no shots of Lili St Cyr, though you will see Mayor Camillien Houde and wife.

And here's Gratien Gélinas as an Anglophone asking for directions:

Also on view: old cronies at croquet, le jeu canadien and the wonder that was Belmont Park in its prime. But for my money, the best sights come when Colette and her guy stroll along the Main.

A National Film Board production, Montreal by Night represents our parents' and grandparents' taxes at work. Something to keep in mind now that you've filed your return.

You did finish, right?

Thanks go out to my friend Mary Anne Straw for putting me on to this wonderful short.