27 August 2018

The Dustiest Bookcase: H pour Harvey

Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).
They're in storage as we build our new home.
Patience, please.

Pourquoi je suis antiséparatiste
Jean-Charles Harvey
Montreal: Éditions de l'Homme, 1962
123 pages

Last year's Dusty Bookcase Best Books in Review ended with a series of resolutions, one of which was to read more books by French language authors. The bar was set very low. I read only one in 2017 – Roger Lemelin's Pierre le magnifique – and that was in translation.

I admit I sometimes find reading books in the original French a struggle, but this is not to say the effort doesn't pay off. Similia Similibus, Le Nom dans le bronze, Erres boréales, and Fermez la porte, on gèle are four favourite books covered in this blog.

I've had the luxury of reading Jean-Charles Harvey in translation. His second novel, Les Demi-civilisés, has twice appeared in English-language editions: Sackcloth for Banner by Lukin Barette and Fear's Folly by John Glassco.

That's it.

Harvey published eighteen other books during his lifetime, but not one has been translated. I find this odd in that he wasn't unknown amongst English-speaking Canadians. Harvey spoke to audiences across the country. His opinion pieces appeared – translated, I'm guessing – in the Maclean's and the Globe & Mail.

The Globe & Mail
10 January 1944
A light in the darkness of Maurice Duplessis' Quebec, Jean Paré dubbed him "bootlegger d'intelligence en période de prohibition." To Pierre Chalout, he was "grand-père de la révolution tranquille." I was born in the midst of that revolution... a revolution for which he had fought and risked everything.

I've read all Harvey's novels: Marcel Faure, Les Demi-civilisés, Les Paradis de sable, and La Fille du silence, in French, but not his non-fiction. Pourquoi je suis antiséparatiste appeared near the end of his seventy-five years. Even at the time, it must have seemed an inadvisable career move. But then Harvey was never one to stand down; Les Demi-civilisés, is proof enough of that.

He was a great man to whom I owe a great deal.

All Quebecers do.

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13 August 2018

On Empty Bookshelves & the Premier's Health

It's been forty-four days since Doug Ford was sworn in as Premier of Ontario. I didn't predict his election here – not exactly – but I did in a bet made at a dinner party the previous month. Won a pint of German lager as a result. I would've risked public drunkenness in sharing my other predictions:

I was sure that Ford would fire Molly Sachet, Ontario's Chief Scientist, despite assurances that he wouldn't. Ford did that on day five.

I was certain he would cancel the basic income pilot project, though Ford told us he wouldn't. We had to wait until day thirty-one for that one.

I would have wagered much more than a beer that Ford's personal assistant, Lyndsey Vanstone, would continue to draw a paycheque for pretending to be a reporter. She's done just that as the lone voice of Ontario News Now.

Ontario News Now describes itself on Facebook as a "News & Media Website," though it isn't news and has no website. Government propaganda, pure and simple, it hasn't attracted much of a following. ONN's Facebook likes amount to between 0.012% and 0.013% of the province's population. Its YouTube channel has 248 subscribers. I've been paying attention only because, as a taxpayer, I'm funding the damn thing.

Can't say I've been getting my money's worth, though the most recent video, "A day in the life of Premier Doug Ford," has proven interesting. To begin with, it's narrated by the premier himself:
Well, from the second I get up it's go, go, go. From six o'clock in the morning, you get up and you're off to the races. The bell goes off and you're out of the gate. There, there's so many briefings. We have major announcements. And some days we, we go into Question Period. Then I have meetings with caucus.
A bit short on detail, to be sure, but there are two moments that I think are key to understanding his actions of the premier. The first begins at 0:28, at which point we're given a glimpse of his office.

The empty bookshelves should not surprise – this is, after all, the same Doug Ford who, as a Toronto city councillor, voted to slash libraries. He argued that his ward had more branches than Tim Horton's franchises – overestimating the former by a factor of ten – and had this to say about one Torontonian who spoke out against the cuts:
Good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don't even know her. She could walk right by me, I wouldn't have a clue who she is.
No doubt.

The second begins at 0:42, ending the video:

eventually I get to go home.
I actually physically walk through my door about
12:30 - 1:00 in the morning so I try to get
four or five hours sleep and we're back at it.
Sleep deprivation impairs, which may explain the premier's inability to tell time or differentiate between day and night. I like to think so – and that a good eight or nine hours of sleep would lead to better policy. The best book I've read on the topic is Sleep Thieves (New York: Free Press, 1996), in which UBC prof Stanley Coren destroys the myth that great leaders sleep very little. He draws on scientific studies in reporting that lack of sleep impairs concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. He looks at the effects of sleep deprivation on the economy (a recent Rand Corporation study put the cost at 1.35% of Canada's GDP). Finally, Coren warns of health implications, which include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

For his own good, and that of the province, I urge Doug Ford to read Sleep Thieves – not only for the information it contains, but because reading has been shown to increase intelligence and empathy.

The Toronto Public Library holds several copies.

The premier need only present his library card.

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06 August 2018

Vancouver Shakedown

Dick Diespecker
Toronto: Harlequin, 1953
224 pages

Handsome Stoney Martin and his plain wife Jane leave Toronto on a train bound for Vancouver. In middle-age, they've decided to make the West Coast their home. Toronto just didn't take.

The long journey back affords Stoney a good amount of time to reflect upon the past, his memories spurred on by a chance encounter with his alluring ex-wife, who just happens to be travelling aboard the very same train. He casts his mind back to 1928, when he and Jane were neighbours in a boarding house not far from Burrard Inlet. Stoney was a reporter for the Morning Standard back then, as was fellow boarder Lon Welch. Chunky, hard-working Kurt Pelzer would join them at the boarding house dinner table, though his presence was invariably overshadowed by Susan Niles:
     Susan Niles was blonde.
     Or brunette.
     Or red-headed.
     Depending on the fashion of the time and her mood.
A fashion illustrator, Susan had a beautiful figure and really knew how to dress and make herself up. What Jane, a bookkeeper, lacked in looks she made up in personality and a wholesome philosophy of life. Stoney was in love with her. If he'd been making $30 a week, instead of $25, he would have proposed. As it was, Stoney was happy to take Jane out on Saturday nights... until the Saturday night she'd agreed to a date with chunky Kurt.

Stoney didn't take it well, got drunk, and ended up in sexy Susan's bed. The next morning, Jane caught him sneaking out of the fashion illustrator's room.

The corner of Granville & Hastings, Vancouver, 1928
Claude Bissell, who seems to have been the only person to have reviewed this novel (University of Toronto Quarterly, April 1954), describes Rebound as a "piece of naturalism."

It is.

Stoney's tumble with Susan has some effect on the plot – they marry because she thinks she's pregnant – but the journalist's fate is governed more by history. Stoney's stock rises with the market as the Morning Standard gives him a front page column and several salary increases. When Susan's  loveless marriage proves baby-less, Susan leaves and sets out to take Stoney for all she can get:
"You don't want a divorce? Why not, for God's sake? Do you mean you like living this kind of bloody life?"
     "No, I don't like it any better than you do. And I'm not going to continue it any longer. I'm moving out this afternoon. But I don't want a divorce."
     Stoney was losing his patience and his temper.
     "What the hell are you raving about?" he demanded.
     Susan lit a cigarette and blew out a long plume of blue smoke before she replied. Then, not looking at him, but staring straight in front of her at the blank wall, exactly as she had on another memorable and terrible occasion, she said, "This is what I'm raving about, as you put it. I've taken more from you than I've ever taken from any man before, or ever will again. You've insulted me and browbeaten me and made me cheapen myself because I loved you."
     "I don't believe that," grunted Stoney.
     "I don't care a damn whether you believe it or not. It happens to be true. I did love you, or I wouldn't have done the things I did. and yet you, with your sickening moral hypocrisy, were wiling to accept the physical aspect of our relationship, but nothing more. You pretended you wanted to call the whole thing off, and yet the minute I made a pass at you, you were right back in bed with me. And when you were faced with the prospect of assuming some responsibility for your actions, you called me filthy names.
     "Well, Mr. Martin, I've been saving these things for you. You have a few debts to pay off, and you're going to pay them... with interest."
Then comes Black Tuesday. Stoney's salary is cut, cut, cut, cut, and cut, until the newspaper goes under and he joins the ranks of the unemployed.

Recognizing there's no more to take, Susan takes up with Lon, but still won't give Stoney a divorce. Doesn't matter, really, since he doesn't have money for food, never mind a lawyer. After days without a meal, Stoney manages to find work selling insurance. "The depression is a godsend to us," says his new boss. "There are more burglaries and holdups. So we sell more burglary and holdup insurance. People are more afraid of accidents and sickness, because they are afraid they'll lose pay from being away from their work... or perhaps even lose their jobs."

Stoney scrambles to make unrealistic sales targets, lying to customers and bending the rules, in a desperate attempt to please:
It was always the same. A shameful crawling and pleading, like a beaten dog begging to be allowed back into the good graces of its master. After a while Stoney became, like many of his fellow drudges, inured to the hopelessness of the situation. They simply did not care any more. Tramping through the streets in the fall and winter rains, with cracked and broken shoes, their suits wrinkled and their cuffs frayed, they gave up trying. They worked of half a day, perhaps on for an hour, attempting to sell without enthusiasm, or more important, trying to make collections.
It's Diespecker's depiction of Depression-era Vancouver and the struggles endured by Stoney and others that make Rebound worth reading. The novel loses strength with the coming of the Second World War. Curiously, there is less drama, less conflict, and the atmosphere of despair dissipates.

On reflection, maybe it isn't so curious; Susan Niles is all but absent during the war years, and it is she who brings passion and excitement to this novel. This seems to have been recognized by the unknown hand who wrote the back cover copy. Susan's presence in the novel is played up, and the devastation she brings is exaggerated. Stoney isn't really "a man who had to wrestle with his very soul until the end of time" – and even if he were, he'd have only himself to blame.

Even femme fatales deserve fair treatment.

Object and Access: A surprisingly thick mass market paperback, published once and never again. The copyright page is interesting in that it blacks out Harlequin's claim of ownership. My copy was a gift from Bowdler of Fly-By-Night. I'd been hunting for ages!

Rebound is held by Library and Archives Canada and six of our academic libraries.


01 August 2018

Mrs Lowry's West Coast Murder Mystery

"Malcolm Lowry has an entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia, so why not wife Margerie?" This is the question I pose in reviewing Margerie Bonner's 1946 novel The Shapes That Creep for the new Summer edition of Canadian Notes & Queries. As I point out, Bonner lived in Canada just as long as her husband, and published three novels during the couple's Canadian years. The Shapes That Creep, the first, is set in motion by the discovery of a murdered recluse in a community modelled on Deep Cove, British Columbia.

My review of The Shapes That Creep – with argument for Bonner's inclusion in the Encyclopedia – is the subject of my Dusty Bookcase column. Over at the What's Old feature, I recommend reissues of two Canadian classics, Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes and The Black Donnellys by Thomas P. Kelley; along with Jimmie Dale, Alias the Gray Seal, a new Gray Seal adventure written by fan Michael Howard.

This being the Genre Issue, Deborah Dundas writes on her relationship with romance novels, Rui Umezawa looks at Enter the Dragon, and Robert J. Wiersema considers Stephen King's It as a work of empathy. Gemma Files, Sandra Kasturi, David Nickle, Andrew Pyper, and Robert Rowe dare revisit their first monsters.

Seth provides a cover that can double as a Halloween mask.

All is overseen by guest editor James Grainger, who also contributes an excellent piece on the disturbing 1972 horror/comedy Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. Other contributors include:
Myra Bloom
Daniel Donaldson
Justin Donnait
André Forget
Chris Gilmore
Alex Good
Camila Grudova
Sandra Kasturiit
Sibyl Lamb
Annick MacAskill
David Mason
Patricia Robertson
Keven Spenst
Jay Stephens
JC Sutcliffe
Drew Hayden Taylor
Bruce Whiteman

As always, things wrap up with Stephen Fowler. This issue he exhumes the Civil Defence Health Service's Casualty Simulation (Ottawa: Department of National Health and Welfare, 1955).

The horror! The horror!

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