03 March 2014

Recycling Richard Rohmer

Separation Two
Richard Rohmer
Markham, ON: PaperJacks, 1981

March has come in like a lion, but those of us committed to reading Richard Rohmer in '14 continue unfazed. We're now six books into the man's oeuvre. Quite an achievement, I think you'll agree, but not nearly so impressive as it sounds. Rohmer has a habit of repeating himself, going over the same facts and past events as if aware that the reader wasn't paying much attention the first time around. Sometimes it's figures about natural gas reserves, pipeline capacity or technical details about the C-130 Hercules, but mostly it's an just a summary of his previous novel.

The first fifth of Exxoneration is a revisionist retelling of Ultimatum. Rohmer does something similar in Separation, before tacking on the final chapter of Exodus/UK.

More lifted filler follows.

With Separation Two, however, Rohmer takes repetition and recycling to a level not seen since the days of Thomas P. Kelley.

This is no sequel to Separation, Rohmer's 1976 bestseller, but a reissue sandwiched between four short chapters about Alberta separatism and an oil man's attempt to assassinate the prime minister. It's a shaky union, made all the more so by haphazard editing.

In the original, a severe economic crisis prompts the UK to ask whether Canada will accept millions of British immigrants. Quebec threatens to separate if Ottawa agrees; Alberta and BC threaten to separate if it does not. There's also lots of superfluous stuff about North Sea oil reserves, off-shore platforms, pipelines, along with an entirely irrelevant four-page UK/US energy agreement copied from Exodus/UK.

In Separation Two, Alberta is “prepared to take the British immigrants”, but doesn't really care much either way. The prospect of several hundred thousand economic refugees flooding into the province? Please. What  concerns Albertans are oil profits and "the budget that asshole in Ottawa threw at us".

The thing about that asshole, Prime Minister Joe Roussel (read: Pierre Trudeau), is that he's stuck repeating everything he said in Separation, things that simply don't fit Separation Two, like when he tells a crowd amassed on Parliament Hill: “British Columbia and Alberta have notified the federal government that if we do not take the British immigrants those provinces will succeed.”



Why in the original book, of course. The threat comes in a fleeting scene with the BC premier, a minor character that does not appear in Separation Two.

See, it's not the asshole's fault, it's the author and editor.

It seems that Separation Two was born out of disappointing mass market sales of Separation. As is so often the case in his fiction, the Americans are at fault. Sandra Martin got a reluctant Rohmer to discuss his rewrite in the 13 June 1981 Globe & Mail:
According to Rohmer, someone at Bantam in New York who knew nothing about Canada and less about art, designed the cover and wrote the copy on the back. Then the book was launched in Canada "without promotion" even though a television film of the book was in the works. The paperback was "a disaster." "It died and when it went out of print about a year ago, the rights reverted to me." In the meantime, Rohmer had moved to General Publishing, which wanted to re-release Separation in their PaperJacks line. Rohmer agreed, but suggested the book should be updated. And that's how Separation II [sic], which Rohmer suggests is "the same book yet different," came about.
Okay, a few quick observations:
  • As a  teenager I owned that Bantam (Bantam/Seal, actually) copy of Separation. I remember it as being far superior to previous Rohmer covers in that it was something more than 72-point type against a grey or white background.
  • I very much doubt the unnamed New York-based artist who designed the cover also wrote the back copy.
  • Rohmer dodged a bullet in not having a tie-in edition to that gawdawful made-for-TV flick.
  • Oh, for the days in which a three-year mass market run was considered "a disaster."
What I really want to address is the idea that Separation Two is "the same book yet different". No argument there, but why give it a different title? A novelist revisiting a work is not without precedent – hell, Dickens changed the ending to Great Expectations – but I can't help but think that PaperJacks was trying to pull a fast one. It really does stink. Nowhere in the cover copy is there so much as a hint that Separation Two is just Separation with a few dozen pages added. In fact, both bibliography and copyright page labour to give the impression that Separation is something altogether different.

Whatever does this mean for Ultimatum 2?

Update: Turns out my memory of the Bantam/Seal edition was spot on. The cover is by Paul Lehr, an American artist remembered primarily for his work on science fiction titles. I see no evidence that he wrote cover copy.  

Note: Much of this post is consists of observations I first made on the Reading Richard Rohmer blog. I've learned from the master.

Object and Access: A cheaply produced mass market paperback, most public library copies fell apart long ago. There are plenty of used copies listed for sale online. I've yet to find evidence of a second printing, so all are first editions, right?

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  1. Didn't the Peanuts paperbacks always say something on their covers about "previously appeared in (some other Peanuts collection you probably already own)"? I wonder why the publishers did that, if they didn't have to. In a battle between disclosure and design, I'd go with design.

    1. You know I often side with design - but not here. After all, the strips were just that: strips meant for publication in one medium, moved over to another. Things get shuffled over the decades. Hell, I'm betting it was pretty hard to keep track of what appeared where. Separation, on the other hand, was meant to be a complete work. The thing that I find most ingenuous is that not even the copyright page hints at Separation Two's past incarnation. Not even © 1976, 1981.

  2. Too bad it's just a rehash, a lot changed between 76 and 82 -- the election of the PQ and then the National Energy Policy -- could have made for some great stuff.

    1. Indeed, a missed opportunity. To be fair, "Levesque [sic]" and the 1980 referendum are mentioned in the new bits. Though not described, it's something like the NEP that sends the Alberta oil man on his murderous path.

    2. I was living in Calgary in 1980 and emotions ran pretty high. Still, I'm surprised there is so little literature about any of this stuff in Canada. Maybe I'm just missing it all (I don't keep up that well, it's true), but there was the movie, "Going Down the Road," and not much else about the way Canadians migrate all over this country.