27 October 2014

Loving the Mayor of Toronto

Rosemary Aubert
Toronto: Harlequin, 1986
Breathless, she couldn't say anything, and taking her silence as acquiescence, he kissed her again, whispering, "I'll call you tomorrow."
     Then he was gone. Before she went in, Jenn took a good look at the spot on her front porch where she'd just been kissed – twice – by His Worship, the mayor of Toronto.
Municipal elections take place across Ontario today, meaning Rob Ford's time as Toronto's mayor is nearly over. Given the man's current health struggles, it may be unseemly to feel good about this, but I do. Ford did considerable harm to Toronto. Barring the election of his brother, which is unlikely, the city will be better off.

Fifteen years ago, when I was living in Toronto, a clownish figure named Mel Lastman was its mayor. Come election time I cast my vote for transgender rights advocate Enza Anderson. She came in third.

Enza Anderson and Mel Lastman, Toronto, 1999
Toronto politics seems to swing wildly between the conventional and unconventional  – or maybe that's just me. In 1986, the year Firebrand was published, the city's mayor was Art Eggleton. Then in the third of his four terms of office, he'd go on to Ottawa, where he served as President of the Treasury Board, Minister of Infrastructure, Minister of International Trade and Minister of National Defence.

When he was through, Lastman returned to his Bad Boy furniture stores.

Michael Massey, the hunk at the centre of this novel is more like Eggleton than Lastman, though I'm betting on John Sewell as the model. Like Sewell, Mike starts out as an activist politician, gets his face smacked by a fellow alderman, and rises to become mayor of our largest city.

The Globe & Mail, 14 March 1972
We first meet Mike in a police van after he's been picked up for disrupting the demolition of an old house (see: Sewell, John). Seated across from him is tearful Jenn MacDonald. Mike got himself arrested on purpose – something to do with bringing attention to the cause, I think – but Jenn is along for the ride only through a misunderstanding. Whatever will husband Bobby think? Fast friends, Mike and Jenn spend the night in neighbouring cells, are freed in the wee hours, and part on the Gerrard Street Bridge. It's not that Mike isn't attracted, but that Jenn is a married woman.

The second chapter begins fifteen years later. Jenn has split from Bobby, and is now working as a librarian at Toronto City Hall. After all this time, her thoughts drift back to the innocent evening spent with Mike. It wasn't that she wasn't attracted, but that she was married.

Mike got married himself – to a Rosedale ice queen – but is recently divorced. Now mayor of Toronto, Jenn sees him from time to time walking through the lobby, but he never sees her. Then, one day, they happen to stand next to each other while watching skaters on Nathan Phillips Square.  

Firebrand being my first Harlequin Superromance, I had no idea what to expect. Still, these things surprised:
  • Elizabeth II as a character.
  • Ribaldry.
  • A debate over whether the Toronto Police Service should be armed with Uzis.
  • A rally against arts cut-backs (with allusion to the cancellation of The Friendly Giant).
  • A sex scene that takes place in the mayor's office.
Yes, a sex scene in the mayor's office. What's more, it takes place before expansive windows overlooking the city:
Suddenly the room behind her was plunged into darkness, and the square outside seemed to spring into full vibrant light. The fountain in the middle gleamed beneath its lighted arches. Queen Street and Bay Street glowed from Saturday night traffic. The clock tower of Old City Hall shone the hour with benign dignity, while all around, office buildings, banks, insurance companies and hotels cast glitter from myriad windows into the night. And above it all shone the full moon, golden, warm, familiar, seductive.
Firebrand is as much a novel about the love between Jenn and Mike as it is the author's love for her hometown. This is no brilliant observation on my part.

The couple stroll through Chinatown, drive along the Danforth, and sneak out of a ball at the King Edward Hotel. There are times it's all a bit forced, though I'm ready to blame an editor's heavy hand for sentences such as this: "She was in The Room, the most exclusive boutique in Simpsons, a huge department store on Yonge Street not far from City Hall."

"I love you, you big heap of brick and concrete," Jenn cries out one morning as she gazes upon the city. The greatest threat to the budding romance between mayor and librarian is found in their disagreement over the future of the Leslie Street Spit. That obstacle evaporates unresolved; others, promised by cover copy, prove no more intrusive than Timothy Eaton's left toe, and things move along toward the usual conclusion. Like City Hall itself, Firebrand alternates between the conventional and the unconventional. Or maybe not. It's my first Superromance.

Note to cleaning staff:
Before her, all six-foot-four of him glowing in the soft window light, stood Mike, fully and gloriously a man. Hungry for her with a hunger that was obvious in every part of his huge body. She dropped her eyes, suddenly shy.
     That gesture of shyness pushed him right over the edge of longing. He wanted her so much. He took a single step closer.
     And she fairly ran into his arms. Sweet, wise, willing Jenn. She had his heart, his soul, his body and his love.
     Tenderly he lowered her onto the deep, soft rug.

Trivia: The man who slapped John Sewell was Alderman Horace Brown, author of The Corpse was a BlondeThe Penthouse Killings, Murder in the Rough and Whispering City.

Object: A 306-page mass market paperback with and additional four pages of advertising. Today's bibliophiles will regret having missed out on this exciting offer:

My copy was given to me by Amy Lavender Harris, author of the acclaimed Imagining Toronto. I have Amy to thank for bringing this novel to my attention.

Access: Published in April 1986 – and never again – it's held only by Library and Archives Canada. There are plenty of used copies available online, ranging in price from 1¢ to US$44.60. Pay no more than one dollar.

The only translation of which I'm aware is Um homem inatingível [An Unattainable Man], published in 1986 by Brazil's Editora Nova Cultural.

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23 October 2014

Sex and the Trudeaus: The Bachelor Canada

Sex and the Single Prime Minister
Michael Cowley
[Don Mills, ON]: Greywood, 1968

The Naked Prime Minister
Michael Cowley
[Don Mills, ON]: Greywood, 1969

Ezra Levant soiled himself last month. That in itself isn't noteworthy, except that this ended up being another of those times in which his employers had to come in for emergency clean-up.

What happened was this:  On 12 September, Justin Trudeau was meeting at the Markham Hilton when he came upon a wedding party. The groom asked if he'd agree to have photos taken with the bride and bridesmaids. Someone yelled out that Trudeau should give the bride a kiss on the cheek. The Liberal leader asked the newlyweds for their okay, then did just that.

“Look at the photo," Levant shrilled, "a young, beautiful bride half Trudeau’s age – he turns 43 this year. She’s dressed in white, it’s her special day – hers and her groom’s – and Trudeau kisses her. That’s what he does.”

For God's sake, Justin, she's dressed in white! C'mon, man.

"I suppose what you think of this photo depends in part on what you think of weddings and marriages and fidelity and faithfulness," said the twice-married Levant. "If they're no big deal to you, this photo is no big deal, right? The idea of the nobleman of the estate, riding through like in medieval times to deflower whatever maidens he wanted, that's still there in Trudeau."

Never mind that the medieval droit du seigneur is a myth – Levant isn't much good when it comes to history – the man is trying to make a point. The point is this: Justin Trudeau is a son of privilege. He is his father's son. He is his mother's son.

“Both Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau were promiscuous, and publicized how many conquests they had. They didn’t even pretend to keep their oaths to each other,” said Levant. Justin Trudeau's father "banged anything. He was a slut.” Mom "didn't wear panties."

Watching Levant rant, you'd think we're a land of looney eunuchs. We're not, nor are we nearly so puritanical as the pundit. I think most Canadians would agree that the media have no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Norm Spector will confirm. This is what makes Michael Cowley's Sex and the Single Prime Minister and The Naked Prime Minister so unusual.  The 'sixties had something to do with it, I suppose, as did the sudden elevation of a charismatic. single man to the office of prime minister. Images like this attract:

Barbra Streisand doesn't figure in either book, though The Naked Prime Minister does include a rather flattering photo of Her Majesty the Queen.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
I've written about this sort of thing before in reviewing I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, which was also published by Greywood. I noted then that the format owes something to Private Eye; I note now that the word balloons aren't quite so clever.

Here are seven more examples, beginning with a nice shot of the space now occupied by Stephen Harper, and ending with a botched reference to Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women.

Ribald? You bet!

Trudeau, père, took Cowley's captions in stride, even going so far as to write the author a polite note of acknowledgement. Trudeau, fils, reacted to Levant's tirade in an entirely different way by boycotting Sun News.

It's perfectly understandable.

Levant has been trying to take down for Trudeau for years. That he's proved himself impotent must surely grate. Given the pundit's history, it comes as no surprise that he'd spread a lie or two about a man's family – or even a couple on their wedding day:
I’m pretty sure I can guess what her groom would say, or her groom’s family, or her own father and mother. Justin Trudeau thinks he’s in the movie Wedding Crashers, that sex comedy where slutty men go to weddings uninvited to bed the maids of honour, but even they had enough class to give the bride herself a pass. I’m not saying Trudeau got sexual with this bride. I’m just saying he invaded a personal intimate day.
Of course, Justin Trudeau did nothing of the kind. The person who invaded the couple's "personal intimate day" was Ezra Levant.

Covered in his own filth, the Sun News Network's loudest voice has yet to apologize to anyone... not even the young bride dressed in white.


Emperor Haute Couture, Margaret Sullivan, 2011
The naked prime minister (no sex).

Objects and Access: Surprisingly sturdy staple-bound books, 64 pages in length, I bought both last year from a London bookseller. Price: $3.00 each.

Several copies of Sex and the Single Prime Minister and The Naked Prime Minister are listed for sale online. They range in price from US$3.83 to US$29.95. Condition is not a factor.

As might be expected, few Canadian libraries hold copies. Sex and the Single Prime Minister can be found in the Parliamentary Library.

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20 October 2014

Sex and the Trudeaus: Son and Hair

Justin Trudeau's memoir was released this morning, two days after what would've been his father's 95th birthday, one year (less a day) before the next federal election. The former is a coincidence.

Reviews are already in. Hours before pub date, customer critic "Page" posted a one-star review under the title "Shows how arrogant JT really is" at chapters.indigo.ca. This, of course, begs a question: Just how arrogant do you have to be to dismiss a book you haven't read?

By comparison, the attack dogs at Sun News have been slow off the mark. Who can blame them? They're still gnawing on last week's Chatelaine profile of Trudeau and his young family. Why just hours ago, it posted as its "VIDEO OF THE DAY" a segment dealing with same from Michael Coren's Agenda.

"I'm not going to pretend that I read Chatelaine magazine; I'm not sure many people read Chatelaine at all," said Coren of Canada's highest circulation magazine. This country's most incompetent book reviewer went on to describe the article as "one of the most callow, fawning pieces I have ever seen". Paige MacPherson of Sun News joined in to form a most impassioned circle jerk. Said she of the article:
It talks about Justin in this glowing fawning sort of a way, as well as his wife and his children, and it's certainly I don't think befitting of the title of the article, which we showed there, 'Is Justin Trudeau the Candidate Women Have Been Waiting For?'. Well, as a woman, at the end of this article I have no idea if he's the candidate that I've been waiting for because it doesn't say anything about him as a politician or as a candidate for prime minister of our country.
As a man, I won't presume to weigh in on the issue, except to note that the title takes the form of a question. We agree on that right? Can we also agree that its author, Carol Toller, has a good deal to say about Trudeau as politician?

Michael Coren seizes bullshit by the horns in focusing on the above photo:
People don't usually, as an entire family, in their clothes, get into the swimming pool unless they're all mentally ill. They've obviously been told by the photographer, "Let's do this. It's warm enough. We'll take the photo." And we're meant to think this is normal Trudeau behaviour.
Two things about this statement:
  • Michael Coren is either forgetting – or trying to remind, none too subtly – that Justin Trudeau's mother suffers from bipolar disorder. The affliction is thought to be hereditary, dontcha know.
  • In the article, Ms Toller writes that "someone" suggested the family jump in the pool. Trudeau, we are told "laughs it off, then pauses as though he can see it – how it’ll play on the page, how it’ll showcase their sense of fun, project a 'Canadian political dynasties are just like you' insouciance."
How it'll play out on the page? How it'll "project a 'Canadian political dynasties are just like you' insouciance"? Really? In an article that "doesn't say anything about him as a politician"?

By this point, Sun was reporting – incorrectly – that Chatelaine had endorsed Justin Trudeau. Things moved from being underhanded, ignorant, clumsy and stupid to otherworldly when Coren pretended to be very familiar with Chatelaine – which, you'll remember, is a magazine he doesn't read. "They always profile political figures in an infantile way", said the host, comparing the family profile to an opinion piece the magazine had published eight years earlier. Ms MacPherson then ruined the narrative:
I have to say, in fairness, there was a lifestyle piece on Stephen Harper and his family as well, but it was nowhere the glowing, fawning piece this very long – basically – essay on how wonderful and carefree the Trudeaus are. It was nothing compared to that.
You see, the real problem with "Is Justin Trudeau the Candidate Women Have Been Waiting For?" isn't that it's a puff piece, but that it's puffier than the one written about the Harpers.

Just about the worst part to a fellow like Coren is this line: "Many voters aren’t sweating the details: They already like what they see in Trudeau – his storied lineage, his youthful energy, his awesome hair."

"How could any journalist sleep at night having written 'awesome hair' in a profile of a man who might well be the next prime minister?" the host asked.

I suggest Coren consult his colleagues at Sun News, who have described Mr Trudeau's hair as "great" (Brian Lilley), "great" (Lorne Gunther), "great" (John Robson), "luxurious" (Monte Solberg), "fantastic" (Simon Kent), "beautiful" (Ezra Levant) and "beautiful" (Ezra Levant, again). Christina Blizzard remarked that the Liberal leader has "nicer hair than Harper". Does it say something about Sun that so many of its men, and so few of its women, obsess over Justin Trudeau's hair?

Michael Coren himself has written about the man's "great hair". My favourite of his articles is the one in which he writes of Trudeau's "nice hair, good looking, cute smile, famous and clever dad, 'interesting' mum."

That's right, "'interesting' mum."

However does Michael Coren sleep at night?

17 October 2014

Ce soir: Hommage à Louis Hémon

Hommage à Louis Hémon
Parrainé par le Writers' Chapel Trust
Vous êtes invités à assister au dévoilement d'une plaque commémorative.

Micheline Cambron (Université de Montréal) prendra la parole.

Vendredi, 17 Octobre, 2014 à 18:00
Église Anglicaine de Saint James the Apostle
1439 rue Sainte-Catherine, Ouest

Une réception avec vin et fromage suivra l'événement.

Louis Hémon Tribute
Sponsored by The Writers’ Chapel Trust
You are invited to attend the unveiling of a commemorative plaque.

Micheline Cambron of the Université de Montréal will speak.

 Friday October 17, 2014 at 6 p.m.
St. James the Apostle Anglican Church
1439 St. Catherine Street West

A reception with wine and cheese will follow.

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15 October 2014

Touched in the Head by a Telepathic Virgin

Soft to the Touch
Clark W. Dailey
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Caroline Prentiss entertains her male visitors – and she has many – in revealing robes and diaphanous negligees. She loves to kiss and encourages caresses, but don't you go getting any ideas about taking things further. At twenty-six, Caroline guards her virginity like no one, convinced that it is tied inextricably to her independence.

Understandably, swains swarm, but quickly fall away in frustration. Only two, playboy Harvey Garrett and lawyer Larry Devlin, show any stamina. Both have been pursuing Caroline for years, each pitching woo and proposing marriage. With a girl on the side, I think Harvey has had an easier time of it; poor love-struck Larry has been leading the life of a celibate.

Caroline is content with the status quo. Montreal's foremost celebrity sculptress – no joke – she takes pride in her ability to make a good living without being tied to any one man. When not entertaining, Caroline throws off robe and negligee so as to admire her naked self in a full-length mirror. The reader is twice told that she is the spitting image of Virginia Mayo.

The great Thomas P. Kelley, King of the Canadian Pulps, once bragged that he never revised a work in progress. I don't mean to suggest that Clark W. Dailey – of whom there is no trace – is Kelley, rather that the two men held similar views when it came to composition.

The fourth of this novel's eight chapters begins with something of a revelation. The celebrity sculptress is shown to be struggling financially. The post-war art boom has proved to be more of a sharp crack, and Caroline is forced to sell her work at bargain basement prices. Good guy Larry offers to pay her rent and bills, but Caroline hesitates. She fears the effect the loan – or is it a gift? – might have on their relationship. Ultimately, the sculptress accepts the lawyer's help.

Then something odd happens: Sans explication, the narrator (omniscient) reverses things, revealing that the lawyer has been paying for everything, Caroline's car included, for many months. A couple of chapters later, the reader learns that she has been passing on wads of Larry's dough to support Harvey. In today's parlance we might describe this as a reboot, with Caroline is reimagined as someone who never was a successful sculptor, despite her celebrity.

It's enough to make you want to throw the book against a wall. I didn't because it was already coming apart, and also because the many weird digressions contained entertained. Here, our omniscient narrator goes off on an awkwardly constructed tirade about the New Look:
How many women try to keep themselves slim, and when they look like a sheet of paper set up on end, with but the merest suggestion of what could be an attractive pair of rising beauties, when what curves they have are shrouded by grotesque "New Look"clothing, when they can walk down the street looking exactly like almost every other woman, that is, they wear a smug expression, because they think they are beautiful! Gawdallmighty! – how the fashion designers and their partners in misleading 'how to be smart' muck, the dress manufacturers, must smiles they purchase another yacht to set sail for Africa to get away from the horrible shapes they have been instrumental in creating, and to gaze in rapture and admiration upon woman as she was made to be – white, yellow or black! 
The book is peppered with rants, observations and other asides. The most repeated topic concerns "thought transference". Brace yourself, the narrator has some pretty harsh things to say:

Sadly, Soft to the Touch isn't worth reading for the plot; I'm not spoiling anything by describing the drama that ensues.

Harvey tries to kill his rival with some sort of poison he brought back from the war. Larry makes it to a hospital, where he lies drifting in and out of consciousness. During one lucid moment he asks Caroline to marry him. The sculptress agrees, but only because doctors have told her that he is sure to die. The bedside ceremony is performed, after which Larry loses consciousness for what looks to be the very last time. Caroline is left alone with her dying husband:
She was thinking. "How wonderfully he rallied after I held his hands for a long time. Perhaps..."
   She rose and, as before, took both his hands in her soft, warm ones. Then she drew all her inner forces and mental resources together and concentrated her thoughts on one short phrase, "I shall live." Perhaps if she could drive this straight from her brain into his, it would affect him.
Affect him it does! After a long night of handholding, Larry bounces back. The attending doctor, "wise, kind and clever, and a man very much interested in natural methods of healing," is pleasantly surprised. He sees nothing wrong with Larry wolfing down bacon, eggs and coffee with his new bride: "Hurrah!" exclaimed Larry, "our first breakfast together."

The last we see of Harvey, he's rushing off to the airport to catch a clipper to Bermuda. Larry is quickly discharged and returns to Caroline's Bishop Street apartment. The last pages of the novel are heavy with the promise of sex, but it ends before the act takes place. This reader didn't care; I'd long grown bored of Caroline and her groping admirers. I do miss the haranguing narrator, though, even if he can't be trusted.

Keeping one hand on the wheel, his other reached over and brushed her thigh, then touched the purse which lay in her lap.
Object and Access: An extremely fragile mass market paperback. At 159 pages – twelve of which are blank – Soft to the Touch may just be the shortest News Stand Library title. I'm guessing that the unknown cover artist had never seen a photo of Virginia Mayo. I'm certain he'd never seen a naked woman.

Soft to the Touch is nowhere to be found on Amicus or WorldCat. Only three copies are currently listed for sale online, ranging in price from $10 to $25. Condition is a factor. Get it while you can.

08 October 2014

'October in War Time'

Timely verse from the Great War by James A. Ross. First published in the 22 October 1918 edition of the Medicine Hat News, the above comes from the poet's Canada First and Other Poems (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1920).

06 October 2014

Talking Canadian Noir with Brian Kaufman

Hitting newsstands as I type: the Pulp Fiction issue of subTerrain. Number 68, it contains all sorts of goodness, including stories by Jesse Donaldson, Jenean McBrearty, Bruce McDougall, J.O. Bruday, Sam Wiebe, Lisa Pike, Chelsea Rooney and John Moore. Add to that poetry from Mark Parsons, John Creary, Carolye Kutcha and John Greenhause, along with an essay by Peter Babiak.

Editor Brian Kaufman interviews me about the Ricochet Books series. I let drop that we'll be publishing Martin Brett's Hot Freeze, "the greatest of all Canadian post-war noir."

Dig that cover by Ryan Heshka.

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