26 October 2020

Nudism to Buddhism

Skin Dive
Joe Fisher
Markham, ON: PaperJacks, 1977
184 pages

His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote the preface to Joe Fisher's third book, The Case for Reincarnation. It's said to be one of the better popular studies of the topic. Skin Dive is something else entirely. Fisher's only novel, it revolves around sad sack Clive Conroy, the proprietor of a failing downtown Toronto nudist club. Clive had borrowed good money to buy the place – The Blue Grotto – on a realtor's assurances that it was good investment. It wasn't. "NUDE MR. CABBY CONTEST," Clive's one idea for turning things around proves disastrous when Bertram Sheehy and his fellow brothers in the Taxi Driver's Association of Metropolitan Toronto threaten violence. "Cab drivers are serious people," says Sheehy, the Association's president, "a strata of society earning and deserving respect. If you think we're going to sit here and watch ourselves being deliberately slandered and humiliated you've got another think [sic] coming."

Clive is a serial sucker, the Blue Grotto being just the latest in a string of bad bets. As the club looks about to go under, Clive encounters Henry Bubbins, representative of Esquire Consultants Ltd, who encourages him to invest in the sale of fire detectors. Sucker that he is, Clive soon finds himself being transported in Bubbins' ageing Cadillac to a twelve-hour seminar at a suburban hotel. The whole thing  stinks of a multi-level marketing scheme, but proves much the worse; Esquire Consultants Ltd disappears after Clive hands over a cheque for $2500 ($10,007.71 today).

I felt like a sucker myself. Back in 2014, I paid $20 ($21.76 today) for Skin Dive after reading the back cover copy:

Clive and Mary Anne do not "explore the mad world of Toronto's Sin Strip;" in fact, they're barely ever together.

No pun intended.

Mary Anne, who begins the novel as a Blue Grotto employee, encourages Clive to invest in a dating service cum brothel.

No pun intended.

Clive retreats to his rented flat, distancing himself from the Sin Strip, as money from Mary Anne's business flows.

Skin Dive promises something other than what it delivers. Going by cover copy, I'd expected a portrait, no matter how crudely drawn, of a time, a place, and its people, much like Hugh Garner had accomplished with Sin Sniper (which isn't much of a novel). Instead, Fisher takes a wealth of material and presents a novel composed of dull moments; the Esquire Consultants sales pitch runs seventeen pages.

I can't leave Skin Dive without remarking on the pub date: July 1977, the very same month as the Emanuel Jaques murder.

I was fourteen, two years older that the victim, and living in suburban Montreal, but I knew Emanuel Jaques' name well. His body was found on a Yonge Street rooftop, just across the street from the Eaton's Centre – and I'd been to the Eaton's Centre! In the summer of '77, the killers of Emanuel Jaques vied for column inches with the Son of Sam. His death brought the beginning of the end of Toronto's Sin Strip.

Skin Dive enjoyed no second printing, and is fairly uncommon. It's held by Library and Archives Canada and six of our universities.

No used copies are listed for sale online.

Given the timing, I'm guessing no one was much interested in a rollicking adventure set on the Sin Strip.

Object: A cheap mass market paperback bulked up by six pages of offerings from the PaperJacks catalogue; my favourite, of course, being The Last Canadian:

And doesn't this look interesting?

I read this at fifteen during a family vacation to Cape Breton:

Wish I still had a copy.

Brant Cowie is credited with the cover of Skin Dive. The uncredited model is overdressed. 

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