24 June 2015

La Fête: Il y'a 100 ans

For the day, verse from Octave Crémazie, father of Quebec poetry and – it needs be said – bookseller"Canadien-française" is available elsewhere, sure, but this is how it appeared in Fête national des canadiens-français: 24 juin 1915 (Quebec: Bédard & Gagné, 1915):

As it was then, this poem is brought to you today by the booklet's sponsors: M Gignac, M Giguere, Mille Noel, Mille Brownrigg, Mille Maranda and the Quebec City Transfer Company.

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15 June 2015

A Man's Struggle with Humiliation

Night of the Horns/Cry Wolfram
Douglas Sanderson
Eureka, CA: Stark House, 2015

Shame he isn't around to see it.

The year Douglas Sanderson died – 2002 – his twenty-two novels were many decades out of print. Two years later, Stark House brought back Pure Sweet Hell and Catch a Fallen Starlet. The last of his Canadian thrillers, The Deadly Dames and A Dum-Dum for the President, followed. With this volume, Stark House revives a fifth and sixth title; a seventh, Hot Freeze, will return this fall as part of the Véhicule Press Ricochet Books series.*

I read and wrote about the second novel in this pairing, Cry Wolfram (a/k/a Mark It for Murder),  a few years back. Night of Horns was something new, though it had always stuck in my mind as Sanderson's only Penguin.

Green bars and everything.

"A man's struggle with humiliation", the publisher's pitch, also stuck. Sanderson's previous thrillers dealt with murderers, drug traffickers, human smugglers, white slavers and political assassins. Here it's humiliation?

The struggling man is California lawyer Robert Race. Better known as Bob, he's made a name for himself by defending the disadvantaged. His latest case involves an immigrant named Garcia who is accused of having interfered with several young girls.

A lost cause.

His greatest victory involved Tony Fontaine, a latino teenager who'd been accused of dealing weed. Not only did Race get him off, he's clothing the kid and paying his way through college. Now twenty. Tony sometimes drops by the flat for a home cooked meal. Who can blame him? That Mrs Race – first name: Eve – is quite a cook… or not. What I know for sure is that she's a looker and is extremely amorous. Two years into marriage, the Races are as randy as ever.

Skirts rise, pants drop.

Trouble is that in springing his young charity case Race bribed a witness, and big time crook Al Kresnik knows all about it. He promises to forget everything if the lawyer agrees to pick up a suitcase and hold onto it for a bit. After some hesitation, Race does just that, only to be rolled and very nearly killed. He soon discovers the suitcase gone, along with his wife. This is where humiliation enters the picture.

Turns out that despite the married couple's incessant coupling, Eve had been seeing other men. Top spot was once held by fellow lawyer Paul Taylor, a neighbour from the floor below, but he's since been supplanted by bad boy Tony. It's almost certain that the young drug dealer – let's acknowledge it and move on – was the guy who stole the suitcase and tried to rub out poor Bob Race.

Faced with these harsh truths, the aptly named Race sets off in pursuit of the suitcase, Tony and his wife. It's in this that I found Night of Horns most interesting. Just what is Bob Race after? Retrieving the suitcase might just save his skin, but is he really out to get Tony? Or is it all about Eve?

Night of Horns is typical Sanderson in that the pace is frantic; like pretty much everything else he wrote, it begins and ends in a matter of days. Not much time, but enough for Race and the reader to come to hate Eve.

Do I spoil things in relaying that he finds comfort with a girl named Ginny Ferrer?

Give the guy a break.

Best passage: 
I'd met Mrs Fontaine twice before, once at the court, once at my office when she'd heard that I'd pay Tony's college fees. She had struck me as elderly, ill and pathetic. I guess I wanted her to be like that.
     She opened the door.
     She had on a negligee and a slip. The negligee showed most of the slip and the slip showed most of her breasts. Her feet were bare, her hair hadn't been combed in a while, her eyes were bleary and the rye on her breath would have knocked down a dray horse. 
Trivia: Night of Horns was first published in 1958 London by Secker & Warburg. The first American edition was published by Fawcett under the title Murder Comes Calling. Its back cover features dialogue that does not appear in the novel.

Might this be the work of the same hand that wrote the misleading cover copy on the Fawcett edition of Sanderson's Pure Sweet Hell?

More trivia: Adapted by Terence Dudley for a 1964 episode of the BBC's Detective. Frank Lieberman starred as Bob Race. Eve was played by the beautiful Barbara Shelley.

A Bonus: Another review, followed by much discussion about identity, categorization, markets and other preoccupations at Sergio Angelini's blog. 

Object: A 261-page trade-size paperback, mine is labelled an advance copy but is otherwise identical to the new Stark House edition that is right now hitting American bookstore shelves. Included is a very fine and informative Introduction by Gregory Shepard.

Access: Though Stark House has no Canadian distribution, Night of Horns/Cry Wolfram and its two other Sanderson books are readily available through the publisher's website.

Collectors may feel frustrated in that Secker & Warburg's true first edition is nowhere in sight. Not online anyway. Copies of the Penguin edition are plentiful and cheap. Prices range from £1.75 to £10.00. Condition is not a factor.

Murder Comes Calling, Fawcett's first American edition, was published the same year using the author's Malcolm Douglas nom de plume. Copies of this edition are just as plentiful and nearly as cheap. Prices range from US$3.44 to US$25.00. Again, condition is not a factor.

Good old University of Toronto has a copy of Penguin's Night of Horns. No Canadian libraries hold Murder Comes Calling.

* Full disclosure: I am Ricochet Books' series editor.

10 June 2015

A Rant on Saul Bellow's 100th Birthday

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Saul Bellow's birth.

Take my word for it.

The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature and the Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada have no entries. Why should they? After all, he was only born in Canada. He only began his education in Canada. He only decided to become a writer in Canada.

Saul Bellow wasn't even ten when his family left for the States.

Those aren't formative years, right?

Weird that we named a library after him.

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09 June 2015

About Those Butt-Ugly Laurentian Library Books

"'Butt-ugly' is a bit harsh, don't you think?" writes a friend in response to my description of Macmillian of Canada's not-much-missed Laurentian Library.

I'm not so sure.

I bought my first Laurentian Library book, Canada's First Century by Donald Creighton, in preparation for my first semester at John Abbott College.* Its pages had turned brown before leaving the campus bookstore. My second Laurentian Library purchase, volume two of Mason Wade's The French Canadians 1760-1967,  developed a curled spine, yet I never read the thing.

(Volume two of Mason Wade's The French Canadians 1760-1967 is nearly six hundred pages long.)

The Laurentian Library was meant to be Macmillan's answer to McClelland & Stewart's New Canadian Library. Cousins, they shared many of the same afflictions. NCL suffered no spinal deformities, but its pages were similarly discoloured. The covers of both were susceptible to wear; as with Tsarevich Alexei, the gentlest handling might bring harm.

Begun in 1967, nine years after NCL, Macmillan's series was heavy with Macmillan authors: Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, Ethel Wilson, Mavis Gallant, W.O. Mitchell, young pup Jack Hodgins and others. It was an awkward list conceived with a weak eye on the academic market; the other concentrated on an effort to keep Macmillan titles in print and, by extension, in house. Robert Kroetsch's But We Are Exiles rubbed shoulders with Pierre Trudeau's Federalism and the French Canadians, which was followed by Erik Munsterhjelm's The Wind and the Caribou: Hunting and Trapping in Northern Canada.

The NCL offerings of the same years were the ugliest ever, but Laurentian Library's were uglier still. Future publisher Hugh Kane acknowledged as much in a 1973 memo to John Gray: "Our books are manufactured very cheaply, printed on newsprint, and do not contain introductions." Sadly, his push for a general editor, the introduction of introductions and proper production values were ignored.

Directionless, the Laurentian Library stumbled along for nearly two decades. In The Legacy of the Macmillan Company of Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2011), Ruth Panofsky counts fifty titles and pegs 1979 as the series' final year, but I know of over thirty more, including #77, The Periwinkle Assault by Charles Dennis.

I'd never heard of The Periwinkle Assault before today. The second volume of something called the Broken Sabre Quartet, it was followed by Mavis Gallant's neglected novels Green Water, Green Sky and A Fairly Good Time. The last Laurentian Library title of which I'm aware – #83 – is The Winter of the Fisher by Cameron Langford. It was published in 1985. Did The Winter of the Fisher mark the end of the series? If so, should we not acknowledge that the Laurentian Library went out on a fairly high note?

I'm not talking about the cover. I'm sure it was ugly.


I've never seen a copy.

* September 1979, if you must know.

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01 June 2015

Passion Over Reason in a Bland Bachelor's Lap

The Unreasoning Heart
Constance Beresford-Howe
New York: Dodd, Mead, 1946

McGill student Constance Beresford-Howe had just received her BA when word came that she'd won the Intercollegiate Literary Fellowship Prize. The accomplishment was duly recognized in the 12 May 1945 edition of Montreal's Gazette:

Beresford-Howe was back at McGill working on her MA when The Unreasoning Heart was published. That same academic year she wrote her second novel.

Old McGill, 1945
It was remarkable beginning to what would become a long literary career. The Unreasoning Heart itself is not nearly so noteworthy, but it is unusual. Not even a handful of Montreal novels were published in the wake of the Second World War, and this is one of only two or three to attempt anything that might be considered literary. But what most intrigues is the behaviour of the female characters. Had The Unreasoning Heart been written by a man I would not hesitate in describing it as the work of a misogynist.

The story begins with Abbey, a sixteen year-old orphan who is taken in – summoned really – by Fran Archer, a childhood friend of her recently deceased mother. The Archers live in a large house on Côte-St-Antoine in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Theirs is an unconventional household, supported largely through what I took to be investments made with inherited wealth. A handsome fifty-something widow, Fran is pretty much in charge. Brother Teddy is a divorced drunk who wanders aimlessly, killing time, untroubled by his disrespectful daughter Paule. Fran's children are more polite. Con, the eldest of the two, runs a printing company. When not at work he sometimes treats Isobel, the aggressive young widow next door, to a movie, though he much prefers the solitude the upstairs library. David, the golden child, is married to Fay, a petite dynamo Fran found for him. He's always been his mother's favourite. Con was never nearly so good-looking and was a problem as a baby.

The heart has its reasons.

Nothing much happens in The Unreasoning Heart. Dialogue dominates the novel as Fran, Paule, Isobel, Fay and new arrival Abbey jockey for position with snide comments and outright insults. Meanwhile, the men, meek, do all they can to avoid drama and confrontation. For this reason, the sole significant episode of the novel comes as surprise. David disappears after Fay pushes him one time too many times. She couldn't care less and carries on with her life. Fran moves toward complete mental collapse. Teddy takes another drink, Con phones the city hospitals, and the girls are devastated. This in turn leads to the best bloomer I've read in many a month:
     "C'n I get into you bed?"
     Paule transferred herself quickly and snuggled up to Abbey for warmth and comfort. She cried a little and dried her tears on the collar of Abbey's pyjamas.
     "Everything's so queer now," she sniffled gratefully.
Read nothing into this encounter, Abbey has dedicated her life and body with newly budding beasts – at sixteen? – to Con, a man twice her age. Hers is the unreasoning heart.
On a sudden impulse she came over him and climbed onto his lap, her long legs dangling to the floor.
     "You young hussy," protested Con, "are you trying to take away my good name? And me so careful all these years?"
     "I just want to hug you some. You're always so remote and dignified. You ought to be hugged oftener."
     "Go right ahead. I'd be a cad to refuse an offer like that."
     She put he arms around his neck and rubbed her smooth cheek vigorously against his. Then she nuzzled her face lovingly into his neck and her fine, silky hair covered his shoulder. She lay there quietly, one hand resting against his breast. Con's long face wore a slightly foolish smile of enjoyment during the performance.
     But, as she lay there so quietly, he gradually became aware of the beating of her young heart and the warmth of her small pointed breasts against him. A proudly uneasy pleasure swept through him. When she stirred a little, his arms close around her. "Don't move," he said. She lay perfectly still, with closed eyes. He smoothed back the fair hair from her cheek and his fingers touched the warm flesh of her upper arm lingeringly. A heavy, using warmth pressed through his veins. He was afraid to move; afraid of her warmth, her sweetness, and her absolute trust. He sat there watching her face, feeling the fierce urge of desire in conflict with an inexplicable tenderness.
     All at once he gave her a rough shake.
     "Get off," he said abruptly. "You're too hard on my rheumatism."
Told you it was unusual.

A bonus:

Abbey and Con as depicted on the cover of the Popular Library edition.
The scene does not appear in the novel.
Another bonus:

Constance Beresford-Howe, Prose Editor, with Richard B. Goldbloom, Ralph Norman, Douglas Archibald, Helen Leavitt and Sheila Mercer in the offices of Forge,
McGill's literary magazine.
Old McGill, 1945
Trivia: Sixty Côte-St-Antoine, the Archer family address, doesn't exist; if it did, their home would sit on land occupied by Westmount City Hall.

More trivia: Like publisher Dodd, Mead, the Intercollegiate Literary Fellowship Prize is pretty much forgotten… with good reason, I suppose. Looking over the list of recipients printed in The Unreasoning Heart, I see no other familiar names. Dedicated investigation exposes Barbara Bentley, Catharine Lawrence and Mary Vardoulakis as one book wonders.

On the other hand, inaugural winner Maureen Daly not only had a real career but a real winner with Seventeenth Summer. It's currently in print with Simon & Schuster. Looking at the cover, you'd never suspect that it's a seventy-three year-old novel.

Could be worse.

Object: A bland-looking 236-page hardcover, lacking dust jacket, purchased in 2013 from a London bookseller back in 2013. Price: $2.00. The second of two copies I've owned over the years.

Access: Though nearly all of our universities have the book in their holdings, it would appear that only the Toronto Public Library and Library and Archives Canada serve the public.

The Dodd, Mead edition enjoyed two printings before disappearing. At some point in the 'sixties Popular Library issued a paperback edition. The Unreasoning Heart last returned to print – briefly – in 1978 as title #66 in Macmillan's butt-ugly Laurentian Library.

Whether the Dodd, Mead or Macmillan edition, used copies come cheap. Pay no more than $20 for a first edition in jacket. Inscribed copies begin at twenty-five.