19 August 2016

Wishing the Prime Minister Dead: The Tory Joke That Wasn't as Funny the Third Time Around

Last week the Conservative Party of Canada used taxpayer dollars to create and post a meme to its Facebook page. There's nothing at all remarkable in this – they do it several times a week – but a couple of things made this particular meme noteworthy. The first is that a variation appeared the very next day.

The second is that the original meme was reposted two days later.

Noteworthy, but not remarkable; just further evidence that the party is bereft of ideas. It does little more than attack, and when pressed for something new, repeats itself. This is the very strategy that cost last year's election.

No, what made these posts truly remarkable weren't the memes themselves, but the reactions from the party's Facebook followers.

Some expressed relief:

Others told us not to be concerned:

Several suggested looking in Mecca, mosques, gay bars and bathhouses:

While others remembered the prime minister's brother Michel, who in 1998 was killed when an avalanche swept him into Kokanee Lake.

Ryan Horvath and Tyrone Newton's comments were anything but unique. Nearly one hundred people took the time to express their hopes that the prime minister would die. Most wished a violent end:

And then there's this:

That all comments remain on the Facebook page of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition raises many questions, the most important being:

How is it that Conservative MPs and party brass are not reading their own page?

I mean, we must assume they're not. The alternative is too disturbing to contemplate.

15 August 2016

Ricochet and the Charles Ross Graham Mystery

The tenth Ricochet Books title is back from the printers and is now on its way to better bookstores. Given the series' raison d'être, it is appropriate that Gambling with Fire by David Montrose was chosen to be that title. After all, Ricochet began with the author's 1950 debut, The Crime on Cote des Neiges; Montrose's Murder Over Dorval and The Body on Mount Royal were books two and three.

Gambling with Fire is the author's laggardly fourth novel. Published in 1969, seventeen years after the last, it holds distinction as his only hardcover. There was no paperback edition... until now.

Gambling with Fire stands apart from the rest in other ways. For example, it is the only Montrose novel not to feature private detective Russell Teed.

And then there's the little thing about the author's death.

Montrose – real name: Charles Ross Graham – died when Gambling with Fire was at press. He never held a copy.

In the Introduction to the Ricochet reissue, John McFetridge presents a compelling case that Gambling with Fire isn't Montrose's fourth novel, rather that it was written before the others. Will we ever know, I wonder.

At the risk of being a big head, I find it astonishing that no one who knew Charles Ross Graham has been in contact. In the seven years since The Dusty Bookcase began, I've heard from Diane Bataille's nephew, Horace Brown's daughter, Lillian Vaux MacKinnon's granddaughter, Ronald J. Cooke's grandson, Danny Halperin's son, and the daughters-in-law of Leo Orenstein and Harold S. Wood. It was through an email from Nancy Vichert, daughter of James Benson Nablo, that we were able to republish his lone novel, The Long Novemberas a Ricochet title.

Charles Ross Graham spent nearly his entire adult life in Montreal, and yet not a single writer I know who was working in the city at the time remembers the man. And so, both pleased and proud as I am in having returned Gambling with Fire to print, I must cast a line:

Anyone out there?


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08 August 2016

The Further Frustrations of Jimmie Dale

The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale
Frank L. Packard
New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1931

"The Gray Seal is dead."

So ends The Adventures of Jimmie Dale. I enjoyed reading those words, even if I knew they weren't true; Packard published four more Jimmie Dale books, The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale being the second.

Don't get me wrong. I really liked Jimmie – much more than most millionaires – but I was growing tired of the Gray Seal, his crime fighting alter-ego. The Adventures of Jimmie Dale clocks in at 468 pages, and there is only so much pulp a man can digest in one sitting. What kept me going was the promise that Jimmie would finally be united with the mystery woman behind his adventures.

I do like a happy ending.

Slowly, very slowly, veils are cast aside, until the mystery woman is revealed as Marie LaSalle. A beautiful heiress, she has been living amongst the dregs of society disguised a hag known as Silver Mag. In the novel's climactic scene, both Jimmie and Marie shed their respective secret identities when the Crime Club, the group that had caused absolutely sweet Marie to go into hiding, is destroyed. Witnesses are convinced that Silver Mag and the Gray Seal perished in an inferno.

As I say, I do like a happy ending.

I picked up The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale because I was curious to see how Jimmie and Marie were getting along. I expected them to be married, living lives of luxury in a Park Avenue penthouse, and solving crimes for kicks like Nick and Nora Charles (only without the drinking or the humour). My heart fell when I learned that Jimmie and Marie weren't together. There was no break-up. Ever cautious Marie decides that surviving members of the Crime Club might be suspicious of their relationship; after all, she and Jimmie hadn't known each other before the troubles started. She determines that the best course of action is to stay away from one another for a year or so.

And then Marie disappears.

Jimmie goes undercover and underground. As Smarlinghue, an impoverished painter and dope fiend, he moves amongst the criminal class in the hopes of finding a trail that will lead to Marie. Many adventures follow, few of which have anything to do with his objective. However, Jimmie is a good guy, so willingly places himself at risk to see justice done. In this respect and others, The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale repeats The Adventures of Jimmie Dale. The reader is presented with a series of well-crafted plots, ingenious and intricate, some of which further the narrative. As in the first book, the second concludes with Jimmie and Marie coming together to defeat villainy. As in the first book, they escape certain disaster, this time in a small boat on the East River:
She was crouched in the bottom of the boat close beside him. He bent his head until his lips touched her hair, and lower still until his lips touched hers. And a long time passed. And the boat drifted on. And he drew her closer into his arms, and held her there. She was safe now, safe for always – and the road of fear lay behind. And into the night there seemed to come a great quiet, and a great joy, and a great thankfulness, and a wondrous peace.
     And the boat drifted on.
     And neither spoke – for they were going home.
And so, another happy ending.

But will they be borne back ceaselessly into the past?

Object: A 340-page book bound in bland, suitably grey boards. I bought my copy two years ago as part of the Gray Seal Edition of Packard's works. Price: US$25.00 for ten volumes. Are there more than ten? I'm assuming so, if only because The Adventures of Jimmie Dale doesn't figure amongst my ten.

Access: Serialized in People's magazine (November 1916 - August 1917), The Further Adventures of Jimmy Dale first appeared as a book in 1919, published by Copp, Clark (Canada), Doran (the United States) and Cassell (the United Kingdom). It sold well in its day – the Hodder & Stoughton edition enjoyed at least ten printings! – and yet a mere eighteen copies are currently listed for sale online. The cheapest is a crappy A.L. Burt reprint with jacket pasted inside. Price: US$6.00. The best comes from a St Catharines bookseller, who offers a sad Copp, Clark first: "Only about 80% of the dust jacket remains. The spine is completely gone." Price: US$25.00. Not one copy of the Gray Seal Edition is listed.

The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale enjoyed at least two translations: Spanish (El sello gris) and Czech (Šedá pečeť 2). I'd be surprised if there aren't more.

A few words about the Spanish cover: That grey seal is much too large. Jimmie always takes care to handle same using tweezers. I'm pretty certain the mask depicted is not made of silk.

Canadians looking to borrow The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale from their local library are pretty much out of luck; only our universities and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec have copies.

It can be read here – gratis – thanks to the Internet Archive.

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01 August 2016

Watch it tumbling down, tumbling down...

Gee, but it's hard when one lowers one's guard to the vultures.

They began tearing down the old school next to our home last week. It was an ugly scene. The first part to be destroyed dated from 1875, when it was known as the St Marys Collegiate Institute. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, it was an impressive structure for so small a town. As the town grew, so did the school, with each extension less attractive than the last. An argument can be made that the devastation began long before the excavators showed up.

My wife put it best in a letter published earlier this year in our local newspaper:
Where were its advocates when the destruction started and the first of its many abysmal additions took form? Each a tumorous growth, defacing and deforming the once elegant building into a grotesque lump of bricks, as a mass it attracts no sympathy. The final insults now come through acts of vandalism committed by clueless, aimless, aggressive teens. But then, why should they care about this school when preceding generations did not? Children learn by example.
The building spent its last days as Arthur Meighen Public School, named in honour of the prime minister who had been educated within its walls. The nicest thing I can think to say about Meighen is that he considered Shakespeare the greatest Englishman of history. Meighen was a better speechwriter than politician, which is to say that he demonstrated real talent in putting words on paper but was otherwise a bastard. Fellow Collegiate alumnus Rev Dr Charles Gordon recognized him as such. Of course, we Canadians know Gordon as "Ralph Connor," the novelist who one hundred years ago dominated bestseller lists.

I lie. We don't remember the man – not even in St Marys.

The father of David Donnell, recipient of the 1983 Governor General's Award for Poetry, taught at the Collegiate. Fellow poet Ingrid Ruthig was a student during the years it was known as North Ward Public School. My daughter, Astrid, attended in its final days as Arthur Meighen.

Time passes.

Last week I saw a roof constructed in the nineteenth-century by local carpenters destroyed by a monster machine from the United States. I saw joists cut from trees that had grown in the time of Lord Simcoe being smashed to bits.

I turned away as a woman shed a tear at the loss.

Shame on me?

Shame on this town.

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25 July 2016

Bad News for Modern Man

The Cashier [Alexandre Chenevert]
Gabrielle Roy [trans. Harry Binsse]
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1955

I wonder how much sleep Gabrielle Roy lost over this novel. It was conceived as the follow-up to Bonheur d'occassion, her bestselling debut, but ended up being published third. The author struggled with it for years, only to be awarded with weak sales. Criticism tended to be positive, save in Quebec where she received some of the most merciless reviews of her career.

How appropriate then that Alexandre ChenevertThe Cashier, in translation – opens on the title character suffering a bout of insomnia. He worries about recent acts of terrorism, tensions in the Middle East, the Chinese, the Russians, weapons of mass destruction, and the flood of cheap Asian imports. Just the other day, Alexandre read an alarming article that warned the planet is warming.

Roy's novel was completed in 1953 and is set six years earlier.

The author loved Alexandre Chenevert, even if readers did not. Truth be told, he's not the most attractive figure. Sour, dour, short, balding and skeletal, he stands slightly stooped at his wicket in Branch J of the Savings Bank of the City and Island of Montreal. The suits he wears have seen better days.

Alexandre's fight for sleep has been going on for years. The medicine cabinet he shares with his wife Eugénie holds something that might help. Alexandre bought it, but can't bring himself to take it: "But were he to at last savor sleep, how could he do without it afterward? The drug that conferred this boon he would long for, no matter what the price, and he would lack the will to give it up." Besides, the medication will only muddle his mind; it would only be a matter of time before he would make a mistake.

Alexandre forgoes the pills, and yet makes an error in doling out an extra hundred dollars to a client the very next workday. Lack of sleep, you understand. This, not the deaths of two infant daughters, is the crise that disrupts his life. He consults his branch manager's doctor, a fine fellow named Hudon, who advises Alexandre to not think so much. "You let things weigh too much on your mind. For heaven's sake... you carry the whole world on your shoulders!"

And yet, even when giving his diagnosis, Hudon recognizes something of himself in Alexandre. Exhausted by the steady stream of patients required to maintain his lifestyle, the doctor considers letting some go. But which to cast off? They've come to rely on him. A good man, Hudon can't help but worry about their wellbeing, as his patient is subsumed on a streetcar by calls for his help from Friendless Youth, the Salvation Army and the Jewish Federation of Charities:

Are you, Alexandre? Are you?.

Roy's bank teller is a man of modest means who must deal with a terrible inheritance:
Modern man was the heir to such a mountain of knowledge. Even had he limited his curiosity to that which was published in his own day, he could never have succeeded in absorbing it all. And where did truth lie in all this mass of writing? Alexandre lived in the age of propaganda.
The Cashier was never suppressed, nor is it forgotten, but it was ignored by me. I found my copy, a first edition, in the summer of 1985 at a bookstore on St-Laurent, a street on which Alexandre Chenevert walks. I'd been meaning to read it for three decades, taking care to ship the book in moves from Montreal to Vancouver, Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver, Vancouver to Ottawa and Ottawa to St Marys. I was twenty-two when I bought it. I'm fifty-three today, one year older than Alexandre Chenevert.

At twenty-two, under Mulroney, Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev, the world weighed heavy.

It's weighing heavier this summer.

I'll never succeed in absorbing it all.

A Bonus:

The Gazette, 15 October 1955
Object: An attractive hardcover in green boards. Sadly, the jacket illustration is uncredited. My copy set me back $5.00... but remember, those are 1985 dollars.

Access: Binsse's translation was commissioned by Harcourt, Brace, its American publisher. The Cashier was also published in the United Kingdom by Heinemann (above). In 1963, the novel followed Brian Moore's Judith Hearne as the fortieth title in the New Canadian Library. Miraculously, it survives as part of the series today.

The original French was first published in 1954 by Beauchemin. That same year, it appeared from Parisian publisher Flammarion as Alexandre Chenevert, cassier. It remains in print to this day. The current edition, published by Boreal, follows the 'nineties NCL design in using Adrien Hébert's Rue St-Denis, 1927 on its cover. A bit off for a novel that takes place two decades later, but I like the painting so much that I don't care.

Nearly all of our university libraries hold French or English-language, often both, while our public libraries generally fail. editions are common in our university

The novel was published in German as Gott geht weiter als wir Menschen (Munich: List, 1956), which Google translates as God Goes Further Than We Humans.

I've never seen a copy.

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11 July 2016

The Paratrooper, the Professor and the Publisher: The Nasty Public Battle Over The Quebec Plot

The first review of my first book was negative. The reviewer's disappointment had to do with my having written the book I wanted to write rather than the book he had wanted to read.

The second review of my first book was written by a man who was identified in same as the model for a throughly dislikeable character in George Galt's novel Scribes and Scoundrels. The reviewer made no mention of this, though he did question my existence.

"Do not respond," a senior writer friend advised.

I didn't.

The reviews that followed were very positive. I remember nothing of them other than that – very positive – but I do remember the two negative reviews in detail. For example, I can tell you that the first reviewer got the price and page count wrong. I can also tell you that I was taken to task for not including an index. The book has one, but he'd read an advance copy. His was an amateur's mistake, published in the closest thing Canada has to "the organ of the trade".

Bad reviews stay with you in a way good reviews don't. I know not to read them. I don't read good reviews either. Every now and then I feel bad for not acknowledging a reviewer's kind words... and here I'm certain that they are all kind words.

"Do not respond."

Good advice I pass on to others. And yet all these years later I still fantasize about taking on the critics in question, which is why I so enjoyed Leo Heaps' thrust and parry with Patrick O'Flaherty found in 38-year-old editions of the Globe & Mail.

A professor at Memorial University, Patrick O'Flaherty was tasked with reviewing The Quebec Plot for the paper (22 July 1978). I have no idea why; I don't see that O'Flaherty had reviewed thrillers in the past. His opening sentence betrays a certain ignorance of the genre: "Leo Heaps, who has been reading James Bond stories and learning a little Canadian geography and history, has decided to write a thriller, some would say a roman a clef about the Quebec situation."

Ignoring the obvious (The Quebec Plot owes nothing to Ian Fleming)what irks is the insinuation that Heaps, then living in London, needed something of a refresher in things Canadian. This is very same thinking the most stupid of our cultural nationalists once employed against the great Mavis Gallant. Winnipeg-born Leo Heaps was the second son of A.A. Heaps. He was educated at Queen's and McGill, and lived most of his life in Toronto. At the risk of being accused of racism – more on that later – I find this quip about Heaps "learning a little Canadian geography and history" a bit rich coming from a man whose early education pre-dated his province joining Confederation. It's not O'Flaherty at his worst, but it's pretty bad. His lowest and laziest comes when he quotes two lines of dialogue out of context:
  • "I hope to God there's no armed revolution in Quebec."
  • "Let's get down to business."
This is a cheap trick that we've all seen before; indeed, Heaps himself recognizes it as such in his response. But before I get to that, O'Flaherty's conclusion is worth presenting in full:

Now, I'm the first to recognize that it is not always easy to come up with a decent conclusion to a review – look no further than mine of The Quebec Plot for evidence – but this one is a real head-scratcher. On the other hand, I'm no academic, which is why I so appreciated the University of Toronto's June V. Engel, who in a letter the Globe & Mail (1 Aug 1978) refers to Prof O'Flaherty's conclusion as "incomprehensible."

Engel wasn't alone in her criticism of the critic. An earlier letter found in the 28 July edition describes the professor's review as " jumbled, incoherent." The writer was someone named Caruso, who may or may not have been an academic him or herself.

By that time, Heaps had responded to the critic. In the 26 July 1978 edition of the Globe & Mail, he shrugs off everything to do with his knowledge of Canada, associations with Ian Fleming, Marian Engel, Charles Templeton and Little Orphan Annie creator Harold Gray, then presents a parting shot:
I have been away from Canada for some time and have grown accustomed to having my books read by literate people who are concerned both with their prose and the philosophical content of their reviews. If Mr. O'Flaherty is a professor of English in Newfoundland who is there to protect us from the academics who teach in our schools?
Fair question. I've been asking variations since my graduation from Beaconsfield High School.

Leo Heaps' letter drew no response from Patrick O'Flaherty, though Jack McClelland weighed in with a letter (4 Aug 1978), which reads in part:
At first I thought it was a bad Newfie joke. Then my reaction turned from disbelief to anger. Mr. O'Flaherty's judgement, in my opinion, ranks slightly below that of a Rhesus monkey and I have nothing against monkeys. 
Was the publisher being disingenuous? "It happens that although I am not the publisher, I have read The Quebec Plot," McClelland writes of a novel he would publish within a year. Might as well add that he also published the novel about the cardinal who doesn't want the world to know about the discovery of Jesus' bones and the one in which a woman tries to copulate with a bear.

Curiously, it was McClelland's letter that brought a response from professor. Notably tardy, here he is from the 24 August 1978 edition:
The letter from Jack McClelland (Aug. 4) comes out with abusive, racist talk – "Newfie," "monkey," etc. This letter, contemptible though it is, merits a few words of reply.
     In recent years I have reviewed a number of silly books published by McClelland and Stewart Ltd. rather harshly. Looking back over my reviews, my only regret is that they were not harsher.
     What does a reviewer do when he is sent a trashy book to review? Normally, I, for one, return the item to the editor with a note saying that it is not worth reviewing. But there is so much writing in Canada – especially at the "creative" level – and so much of it is published with the assistance of the Canadian taxpayer, that it is hard to resist occasionally damning bad books. And so I stand by my review of Leo Heaps' book.
I imagine the professor does to this day, ignoring the simple facts that The Quebec Plot received no taxpayer support and was never sold as anything other than a thriller.

The last word is owed Leo Heaps himself, as published in this letter in the 4 September 1978 edition:
I cannot resist taking a parting shot at my friend Patrick O'Flaherty who reviewed my book The Quebec Plot in your columns. I will miss the professor from Memorial College, Newfoundland, at his departure.
    Professor O'Flaherty has in his letter to your newspaper on Aug. 24 presented such a perfect and inviting target that I felt it was irresistable. His remarks either hide a character of infinite subtlety and wit or one of enormous pomposity and self-righteousness. Personally, I am inclined to favor the latter view. Mr. O'Flaherty has sounded like the budding parliamemtary candidate he is when he protests against the waste of taxpayers' money on behalf of Canadian authors struggling to make ends meet. (Unfortunately, I have never had any grants. All my books have been published abroad, except one, which won a Governor-General's Award.) Perhaps the professor might tell us where the subsidy came from to publish his somewhat obscure anthology of Newfoundland and Labrador writing, which he co-edited some years back.
     If Patrick O'Flaherty remains as severe as he is, "untroubled," as Browning said, "by the spark," and if he is allowed to indecently expose himself in book review columns, then one can begin to understand his concern about Canadian prose. One only has to read what the professor writes.
Yes, Heaps is owed the last word... but I can't quite bring myself to let him have it.

In January 2009, at a dinner celebrating the sixtieth birthday of the aforementioned senior writer, I was introduced to the second critic of my first book. On learning my name he paused – here it comes, I thought – and then said: "You wouldn't be any relation to Reverend David Busby? I was one of his altar boys."

"Yes," I replied, "he was my uncle."

"Nice man," said the critic.

"Yes, very nice," I said.

And then we parted.

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10 July 2016

If the rain comes...

In a long, hot summer of precious little precious rain, Seth's cover for the new Canadian Notes & Queries reminds booklovers to always be at the ready. Whether walking your dog, enjoying a pleasant read in the park, or both, the plastic bag is an essential item. Books are never to be used to protect one's do.

My copy arrived in the mail – a small miracle – on Friday, bringing art, articles and reviews by Kamal Al-Solaylee, Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Nicole Dixon, Charles Foran, Alex Good, David Helwig, Jim Johnstone, Jason Kieffer, Rachel Lebowitz, David Mason and, um, Max Beerbohm. Jason Dickson interviews my friends Adrian and Brendan King-Edwards of The Word bookstore in Montreal. The issue is further blessed with three poems by Nyla Matuk and a new short story from Tamas Dobozy.

My contribution – The Dusty Bookcase on paper – is an interview with Gwendolyn Davies, Series Editor of Formac Fiction Treasures. Now celebrating its tenth year, the series has worked to revive forgotten works by mostly-forgotten Maritime writers. I'm right now reading its most recent title, A Changed Heart by May Agnes Fleming, Victorian Gothic set in St John, New Brunswick. Anyone who remembers my review of Fleming's The Midnight Queen will understand the attraction.


And pick up after your damn dog!

Subscriptions to Canadian Notes & Queries can be purchased here.