Transcript: Robert Adams on Lauren B. Davis' novel The Stubborn Season | Oct 16, 2004

Robert Adams stands behind a wooden podium on a stage and addresses an unseen audience.
He’s in his sixties, balding, with a white goatee. He’s wearing rounded glasses, a black suit with a blue shirt, and a burgundy tie.

He says I AM GOING TO
SPEAK TONIGHT ABOUT “THE
STUBBORN SEASON” BY LAUREN B. DAVIS.

A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover features a sepia-tone portrait picture of a young woman that reveals only half of her face.
A picture of the author appears on top. She’s in her thirties, with short wavy blond hair.

Robert continues THE NOVEL WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN
2002, BUT BEFORE I ADDRESS THE
NOVEL ITSELF, I WOULD LIKE TO
SAY A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
TWICE, THREE TIMES DURING THE
LAST 12 MONTHS, MY WIFE PEARL
AND I HAVE HAD THE PLEASURE OF
SPENDING TIME WITH THE CHARMING
LAUREN B. DAVIS, AND HER EQUALLY
CHARMING HUSBAND RON DAVIS.
AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE THIRD
TIME WAS TONIGHT.
WE HAD DINNER JUST AN HOUR OR
TWO AGO, AND LAUREN IS SITTING
IN THE AUDIENCE IN FRONT OF ME.

[Applause]

Lauren appears briefly on screen smiling.

Robert continues FROM--
WHEN WE MET, ESPECIALLY THE
FIRST TIME, WHICH WAS AT OUR
HOUSE IN MONTREAL, WE ALL OF US
TALKED ABOUT OUR LIVES, AND OF
COURSE WE TALKED ABOUT “THE
STUBBORN SEASON.”
AND FROM WHAT LAUREN DAVIS TOLD
US, I CAN SHARE WITH YOU THE
FOLLOWING.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Robert Adams. Lauren B. Davis, ‘The stubborn season.’"

Robert continues LAUREN B. DAVIS
WAS BORN LAUREN CARGILL, SOME 40
ODD YEARS AGO IN MONTREAL, ON
THE WEST ISLAND IN BEACONSFIELD.
SHE LEFT HOME WHEN SHE WAS 16 TO
WANDER, MAINLY IN EASTERN
CANADA, BEGINNING IN NOVA
SCOTIA.
SHE HAD A
TURBULENT YOUTH, FAIRLY TYPICAL
OF THE EARLY 1970s.
SHE DID WAITRESSING AND CLERICAL
WORK TO SUPPORT HERSELF, BUT SHE
FOUND TIME TO STUDY AND TO
WRITE.
SHE STUDIED CREATIVE WRITING
THROUGH THE UNIVERSITY OF
INDIANA, AND THEN HERE AT HUMBER
COLLEGE CREATIVE WRITING MENTOR
PROGRAM IN TORONTO.
HER PERSONAL MENTOR WAS TIMOTHY
FINDLAY.
[Murmuring]
SHE WROTE BAD POETRY IN HER 20s,
THAT IS HER PHRASE NOT MINE, AND
THEN IN THE YEAR 2000, HAD HER
FIRST COLLECTION OF SHORT
STORIES PUBLISHED.
IT WAS CALLED, “RAT MEDICINE AND
OTHER UNLIKELY CURATIVES.”
IN 1987, WHILE WORKING IN
TORONTO, SHE MET RON DAVIS, THE
VERY HANDSOME MAN WITH THE BLACK
BEARD WHO IS SITTING NEXT TO HER.
[Applause]
PLEASE, NOT WHOO-WHOO.
[Laughing]
THEY MARRIED THREE YEARS LATER,
AND THE REST IS HISTORY.
IN 1994, RON AND LAUREN DAVIS
WENT TO LIVE IN FRANCE, WHERE
RON WAS SETTING UP THE
SUBSIDIARY OF AN AMERICAN
COMPANY.
THAT WAS IN ANERCIE, NOT FAR
OVER THE BORDER FROM GENEVA.
IN 1999, THEY MOVED TO PARIS,
WHERE RON WORKED FOR A ZURICH
BASED FINANCIAL COMPANY.
IN THE LAST MONTH, THEY HAVE
MOVED BACK TO NORTH AMERICA, TO
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY.
THEY ARE HERE ON A VISIT, WHICH
MEANS THAT EXCEPT FOR ONE 11
MONTH PERIOD IN 2000, WHEN THEY
CAME BACK TO TORONTO, IN
LAUREN'S WORDS, TO RECONNECT,
THE DAVISES HAVE SPENT THE LAST
10 YEARS IN FRANCE.
UNTIL RECENTLY LAUREN DAVIS WAS
THE EUROPEAN EDITOR OF THE
LITERARY REVIEW OF CANADA.
SHE ALSO TAUGHT CREATIVE WRITING
COURSES AT THE AMERICAN
UNIVERSITY IN PARIS.
SINCE “THE STUBBORN SEASON.”
INVOLVES A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
A JEWISH YOUNG MAN AND A NON-
JEWISH GIRL, A GENTILE GIRL, IT
IS PERHAPS WORTHY OF NOTE THAT
LAUREN DAVIS IS HERSELF NOT
JEWISH, NOR AT THE MOMENT,
PRACTISING ANY FORM OF ORGANISED
JEWISH GIRL, A GENTILE GIRL, IT
IS PERHAPS WORTHY OF NOTE THAT
LAUREN DAVIS IS HERSELF NOT
JEWISH, NOR AT THE MOMENT,
PRACTISING ANY FORM OF ORGANISED
RELIGION.
HER HUSBAND RON, WAS, HOWEVER...
BORN TO A JEWISH FAMILY, ONE OF
THE SMALL JEWISH COMMUNITY IN
QUEBEC CITY WHERE HE WAS RAISED.
HE HONOURS HIS JEWISH HERITAGE,
BUT LIKE DAVID HIRSCH IN THE
NOVEL, HE COULD HARDLY BE CALLED
OBSERVANT.
I NOTICE THAT THE FIRST OF THE
TWO DEDICATIONS OF THE NOVEL, AT
THE FRONT OF THE NOVEL, IS, TO
QUOTE, “TO MY HUSBAND RON, WHO
NEVER FALTERS IN HIS
ENCOURAGEMENT, HIS SUPPORT AND
HIS LOVE.”
THE SECOND DEDICATION OF THE
NOVEL IS TO LAUREN DAVIS'S
MOTHER WHO, I QUOTE, “PLANTED
THE SEED FOR THE STORY WITH A
STORY OF HER OWN.”
AND I HAPPEN TO KNOW FROM LAUREN
THE SECOND DEDICATION OF THE
NOVEL IS TO LAUREN DAVIS'S
MOTHER WHO, I QUOTE, “PLANTED
THE SEED FOR THE STORY WITH A
STORY OF HER OWN.”
AND I HAPPEN TO KNOW FROM LAUREN
DAVIS WHAT THAT STORY WAS, THAT
HER MOTHER TOLD HER.
LAUREN DAVIS'S MOTHER WAS FROM
WINNIPEG, AND ONE OF HER
MEMORIES OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION
OF THE 1930s, WAS OF A
NEIGHBOUR, A VERY ODD WOMAN, WHO
NEVER LET HER DAUGHTER OUT TO
PLAY.
AND WHEN THAT LITTLE GIRL GREW
UP, SHE MET A BRITISH FELLOW,
WHO WAS OVER HERE TRAINING WITH
THE RCAF.
THEY MARRIED, SHE WENT BACK WITH
HIM TO ENGLAND, BUT SHE
EXPERIENCED CULTURE SHOCK.
SHE HAD A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN AND
LAUREN DAVIS CALLED IT, IN
CONVERSATION WITH ME, “THE
TYRANNY OF THE WEAK,” AND I
THOUGHT THAT SUCH A MEMORABLE
PHRASE. “THE TYRANNY OF THE
WEAK,” AND I'M GOING TO EXAMINE
FOUND NO PEACE.
AND SO THAT POOR YOUNG WOMAN
TOOK HER OWN LIFE WITH RAT
POISON.
THAT WAS THE STORY THAT HER
MOTHER TOLD LAUREN DAVIS AND SHE
WAS FASCINATED, LAUREN DAVIS, BY
THE CONTROL THE MENTALLY ILL
MOTHER EXERCISED OVER HER
DAUGHTER.
LAUREN DAVIS CALLED IT, IN
CONVERSATION WITH ME, “THE
TYRANNY OF THE WEAK,” AND I
THOUGHT THAT SUCH A MEMORABLE
PHRASE. “THE TYRANNY OF THE
WEAK,” AND I'M GOING TO EXAMINE
ITS IMPLICATIONS AS I ADDRESS
THE NOVEL.
NOW LAUREN DAVIS MEANT THAT
STORY TO BE THE FRAMEWORK OF
THIS NOVEL, BUT AS SHE WAS DOING
HER EXTENSIVE RESEARCH INTO HOW
CANADA WAS DURING THE 1930s, SHE
DISCOVERED SOMETHING THAT SHE
HADN'T REALLY BEEN AWARE OF
BEFORE.
SHE DISCOVERED THAT THERE WERE
FARMING COMMUNITIES ON THE
CANADIAN PRAIRIES COMPOSED
ENTIRELY OF JEWISH IMMIGRANTS,
AND THAT SOME OF THESE
COMMUNITIES DATED BACK WELL INTO
THE 19th CENTURY.
CANADIAN PRAIRIES COMPOSED
ENTIRELY OF JEWISH IMMIGRANTS,
AND THAT SOME OF THESE
COMMUNITIES DATED BACK WELL INTO
THE 19th CENTURY.
AND SHE THOUGHT THAT IF SHE
INCORPORATED THAT DISCOVERY INTO
HER NOVEL, SHE COULD ADD ANOTHER
DIMENSION.
SHE WOULD BE ABLE TO COMPARE THE
TYRANNY OF THE WEAK, THE
DISTURBED MOTHER, AND THE
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC TYRANNY
THAT WAS PREVALENT IN THE 1930s,
AND THUS WAS BORN THE CHARACTER
IN THE NOVEL OF DAVID HIRSCH.
AND MY LAST POINT BEFORE I BEGIN
THE NOVEL ITSELF, IS TO SAY THAT
I HAVE LAUREN DAVIS' PERMISSION
TO TELL YOU THAT HER LATE
FATHER, LIKE DOUGLAS MacNEIL IN
THE NOVEL, SUFFERED FROM THE
TERRIBLE DISEASE OF ALCOHOLISM.
AND THAT, I QUOTE, “SOMEONE CLOSE TO HER WAS
CLOSE TO HER WAS AFFLICTED BY
ACUTE DEPRESSION.”
IF I DID NOT KNOW HER PERSONAL
HISTORY, I WOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT
LAUREN DAVIS IS WRITING NOT ONLY
FROM METICULOUS RESEARCH, BUT
FROM PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE.
BECAUSE EVERY
SENTENCE IN THE NOVEL RINGS TRUE.
THERE ISN'T A FALSE NOTE.
THERE ARE TWO CHARACTERS IN THE
NOVEL, TWO MAIN CHARACTERS.
WE MEET THEM BOTH AT THE
BEGINNING OF THE NOVEL, IN
OCTOBER OF 1929, THEIR STORIES
ARE TOLD SEPARATELY IN
ALTERNATING CHAPTERS, UNTIL THEY
MEET AND THE STORIES INTERTWINE
AND THE STORIES BECOME ONE.
THE GIRL, WHEN WE MEET HER, IS
10 YEARS OLD.
HER NAME IS IRENE.
SHE LIVES IN TORONTO, THE ONLY
DAUGHTER OF DOUGLAS MacNEIL, A
PHARMACIST AND HIS WIFE
MARGARET.
AND ALTHOUGH IT MIGHT SEEM THAT
SHE IS AN ORDINARY GIRL, SHE IS
THE PRODUCT OF HER CULTURE, THE
DOMINANT CULTURE OF HER TIME,
THE WHITE ANGLO-SAXON PROTESTANT
CULTURE, THEN, AN OVERWHELMING
MAJORITY IN CANADA.
THERE IS ALSO AN UNCLE, HER
MOTHER'S BROTHER, RORY CAMERON.
THE BOY, WHEN WE MEET HIM IS 14,
FOUR YEARS OLDER THAT IRENE.
HE LIVES FAR AWAY, ONE OF THE
137 JEWS LIVING IN 29 FARMS IN
THE COMMUNITY OF SONNENFELDT,
SASKATCHEWAN.
THEIR SEPARATE STORIES, AND THE
STORY OF THEIR MEETING, IS IN
FACT, THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE OF
THE NOVEL.
BUT BEFORE I EXPLORE THEIR
STORIES, LET ME TALK FOR A WHILE
ABOUT THE 1930s IN CANADA.
THE DECADE IN WHICH IRENE
MacNEIL, THE LITTLE GENTILE GIRL
FROM THE MAINSTREAM CULTURE IN
TORONTO, AND DAVID HIRSCH,
SLIGHTLY OLDER JEWISH BOY IN
SASKATCHEWAN.
IT'S A DECADE IN WHICH THEY ARE
GOING TO GROW UP.
AND LAUREN DAVIS HIT UPON WHAT I
THOUGHT WAS A VERY INGENIOUS
DEVICE, TO GIVE US THE
BACKGROUND, THE EVENTS AGAINST
WHICH THEIR STORIES WILL BE
PLAYED OUT.
SHE MAKES MARGARET MacNEIL, THE
MOTHER OF LITTLE IRENE, AN AVID
LISTENER TO NEWS ON THE RADIO,
AND AN AVID READER OF NEWS IN
THE NEWSPAPERS.
THAT WAY, THE HISTORY OF THE
PERIOD IS FED TO US IN
SATISFYING, AND NOT TOO
DEMANDING LITTLE BITS AND
PIECES.
YOU'RE ALL FAMILIAR, I KNOW,
WITH THE DRY EVENTS OF THE
PERIOD, SO LET ME PUT THEM
TOGETHER, JUST TO REFRESH OUR
MEMORIES.
IN OCTOBER OF 1929, THE NEW YORK
STOCK EXCHANGE CRASHED, THE WALL
STREET CRASH.
THERE HAD BEEN TOO MUCH WILD
SPECULATION, AND AS A RESULT,
WORLD WIDE ECONOMIES CRASHED.
IN CANADA, BY 1932, SHARES HAD
FALLEN 80 percent OF THEIR 1929 VALUE.
BY 1932, CANADA'S EXPORTS WERE
ONLY 50 percent OF WHAT THEY HAD BEEN
IN 1929, AND BY A TERRIBLE
COINCIDENCE, THE CANADIAN
PRAIRIES, LIKE THE AMERICAN
MIDWEST, WAS AFFLICTED BY A
TERRIBLE DROUGHT THAT LASTED FOR
YEARS.
THE TOPSOIL BLEW AWAY, AND THE
WEST IN CANADA AND THE UNITED
STATES BECAME A DUST BOWL.
UNEMPLOYMENT IN CANADA ROSE
ABOVE 20 percent, AND THE CONSERVATIVE
GOVERNMENT OF R.B. BENNETT UNTIL
1935, AND THE LIBERAL GOVERNMENT
OF MACKENZIE KING THAT FOLLOWED
IN 1935, WERE--
HAD NO ANSWER FOR THE
DEPRESSION.
IN FACT NEITHER BENNETT'S
GOVERNMENT BEFORE '35 OR KING'S
GOVERNMENT AFTER '35 HAD THE
VISION OR EVEN THE DESIRE TO
LESSEN THE SUFFERING, BECAUSE
BOTH OF THOSE GOVERNMENTS
BELIEVED THAT AN INDIVIDUAL'S
MISFORTUNE WAS THE PROBLEM OF
STATES BECAME A DUST BOWL.
UNEMPLOYMENT IN CANADA ROSE
ABOVE 20 percent, AND THE CONSERVATIVE
GOVERNMENT OF R.B. BENNETT UNTIL
1935, AND THE LIBERAL GOVERNMENT
OF MACKENZIE KING THAT FOLLOWED
IN 1935, WERE--
HAD NO ANSWER FOR THE
DEPRESSION.
IN FACT NEITHER BENNETT'S
GOVERNMENT BEFORE '35 OR KING'S
GOVERNMENT AFTER '35 HAD THE
VISION OR EVEN THE DESIRE TO
LESSEN THE SUFFERING, BECAUSE
BOTH OF THOSE GOVERNMENTS
BELIEVED THAT AN INDIVIDUAL'S
MISFORTUNE WAS THE PROBLEM OF
THAT INDIVIDUAL.
GOVERNMENTS SHOULD NOT INTERVENE
IN THE AFFAIRS OF THE
INDIVIDUAL.
THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT
INTERVENE TO PREVENT THE WORKING
OF THE FREE MARKET, AND THE
RESULT WAS THAT THERE WOULD BE
NO UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE, FOR
EXAMPLE, IN CANADA UNTIL THE
YEAR 1940, BY WHICH THE NEED WAS
DISSIPATED.
TIMES WERE VERY, VERY BAD IN THE
1930s, IT WAS A SEASON OF
DEPRESSION THAT WOULD NOT GO
AWAY, HENCE THE TITLE, “THE
STUBBORN SEASON,” A PHRASE THAT
LAUREN DAVIS BORROWED FROM T.S.
ELIOT'S, “THE SONG OF SIMEON.”
ALL THIS WE LEARN IN BITS AND
PIECES FROM MARGARET MacNEIL AS
SHE LISTENS TO THE RADIO, READS
HER NEWSPAPER.
BUT LAUREN DAVIS HUMANISES THESE
STATISTICS.
SHE FOCUSSES ON THE DEPRESSION'S
EFFECTS ON ORDINARY WORKING
PEOPLE.
FROM PAGE 14,
“MARGARET SAT WITH HER EAR NEXT
TO THE RADIO, AS THE VOICES
SPOKE ABOUT THE PRAIRIES DRYING
UP AND BLOWING AWAY, AND
INDUSTRY SHUTTING THE FACTORY
DOORS, LEAVING THOUSANDS TO GET
BY AS BEST THEY COULD, LIVING
OFF THEIR SAVINGS OR THEIR
RELATIVES IF THEY WERE LUCKY, ON
THE STREET IF THEY WEREN'T.
ALL ACROSS
CANADA MANUFACTURING PLANTS
CLOSED, AND MEN WANDERED THE
STREETS IN RISING NUMBERS.”
IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE THAT SOME
CANADIANS FACED WITH THE
GOVERNMENT'S INACTION SHOULD
TURN TO EXTREME ALTERNATIVES.
SOME WENT FAR LEFT TO TIM BUCK'S
COMMUNIST PARTY.
SUCH A ONE WAS RORY CAMERON,
IRENE MacNEIL'S UNCLE, THE WIFE
OF HER MOTHER MARGARET MacNEIL.
HE LOSES HIS JOB AT THE BOX
FACTORY SOON AFTER WE MEET HIM
IN THE NOVEL, AND HE BEGINS TO
WORK FOR THE PARTY,
CRISSCROSSING CANADA, GOING, FOR
A PITTANCE, WHEREVER THE PARTY
SENDS HIM, TO ORGANISE, TO
UNIONISE.
A PITTANCE, WHEREVER THE PARTY
SENDS HIM, TO ORGANISE, TO
UNIONISE.
THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN CANADA
NEVER GAINES A LARGE MEMBERSHIP,
BUT AS THE NOVEL MAKES CLEAR, IT
HAD A HIGH PROFILE.
ORGANISING THE UNEMPLOYED INTO
RALLIES INTO STREET
DEMONSTRATIONS.
BUT IT MADE THE GOVERNMENTS OF
BENNETT AND KING NERVOUS.
AFTER ALL, IN 1930, IT WAS ONLY
13 YEARS SINCE THE BOLSHEVIK
REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA.
THE COMMUNIST PARTY RECRUITED
MAINLY AMONG THE POOR, AND
INTELLECTUALS, SOME
INTELLECTUALS.
AND IT WAS NOT TOO DIFFICULT FOR
THE GOVERNMENTS OF BENNETT AND
KING TO SUPPRESS THE PARTY.
ON PAGE 85, RORY CAMERON TELLS
HIS SISTER HOW TIM BUCK THE
COMMUNIST LEADER WAS SENTENCED
TO FIVE YEARS IN THE HELL HOLE
OF KINGSTON PENITENTIARY ON A
TRUMPED UP CHARGE OF SEDITIOUS
CONSPIRACY, AND HOW THE POLICE
AND THE GUARDS USED TO AMUSE
THEMSELVES BY FIRING PISTOL
SHOTS INTO HIS CELL.
AND THE RANK AND FILE OF THE
PARTY WERE EVEN EASIER TO DEAL
WITH.
DOUGLAS MacNEIL, IN THE NOVEL,
IRENE MacNEIL'S FATHER, IS
ARRESTED ACCIDENTALLY.
HE WANDERS DRUNK INTO A
DEMONSTRATION BY UNEMPLOYED
WORKERS.
LATER, ARRESTED, IN THE POLICE
STATION, HE WILL WITNESS THE
POLICE BEAT AN UNEMPLOYED,
UNARMED MAN INTO A BLOODY PULP.
BUT IRONICALLY, IN CONTRAST, IT
WAS AT THAT DEMONSTRATION THAT
WE HAVE ONE OF THE NOVEL'S FEW,
GENUINELY FUNNY MOMENTS.
FROM PAGE 64, WITH REFERENCE TO
THE DRUNKEN DOUGLAS MacNEIL,
“HE THREW UP HIS HANDS AND
SCREAMED AT THE POLICE, 'DON'T
HIT ME, I'M AN ANTI-COMMUNIST'.
AND THE POLICEMAN CRACKED HIM ON
THE BACK WITH HIS BATON AND
SAID, 'I DON'T CARE WHAT KIND OF
FROM PAGE 64, WITH REFERENCE TO
THE DRUNKEN DOUGLAS MacNEIL,
“HE THREW UP HIS HANDS AND
SCREAMED AT THE POLICE, 'DON'T
HIT ME, I'M AN ANTI-COMMUNIST'.
AND THE POLICEMAN CRACKED HIM ON
THE BACK WITH HIS BATON AND
SAID, 'I DON'T CARE WHAT KIND OF
COMMUNIST YOU ARE.’”
[Laughing]
IT WAS NOT AS EASY FOR THE
GOVERNMENT TO CRACK DOWN ON
THOSE WHO MOVED TO THE FAR
RIGHT.
PARTICULARLY SINCE THE
ATTRACTION TO FASCISM AND ITS
CONCOMITANT ANTISEMITISM HAD
PENETRATED ALL LEVELS OF
CANADIAN SOCIETY.
MUSSOLINI HAD COME TO POWER IN
ITALY IN 1922, HITLER HAD BEEN
ELECTED TO POWER IN 1933, AND
BOTH THOSE MEN, MUSSOLINI AND
HITLER HAD MANY ADMIRERS ALL
OVER THE WESTERN WORLD, IN EVERY
COUNTRY, AND CANADA WAS NO
EXCEPTION.
PEOPLE IN ADVERSITY, PEOPLE
TRAPPED IN THE STUBBORN SEASON
OF DEPRESSION THAT WOULD NOT GO
AWAY, YEARNED FOR EASY ANSWERS.
LEADERSHIP OF A STRONG MAN WHO
EMBODIED THE SPIRIT OF THE
NATION WAS VERY ATTRACTIVE, AND
IT WAS VERY ATTRACTIVE WHEN
LEADERS LIKE HITLER IDENTIFIED
THE ENEMY SO CLEARLY.
COMMUNISTS, HOMOSEXUALS, JEWS,
GYPSIES, SMALL MINORITIES, EASY
TO PERSECUTE.
WOULD-BE HITLERS SPRANG UP ALL
OVER CANADA.
IN 1933, WILLIAM WHITTAKER
FOUNDED HIS CANADIAN NATIONALIST
PARTY IN WINNIPEG IN THE SAME
YEAR JOSEPH C. FARR FOUNDED HIS
SWASTIKA CLUBS IN ONTARIO.
THIS WORK DOESN'T DEAL WITH
QUEBEC, BUT OF COURSE IN QUEBEC,
WE HAD OUR OWN...
OUR OWN FASCIST LEADERS, ADRIAN
ARCAND, WAS OUR WOULD-BE HITLER,
AND THE LITTLE PRIEST LIONEL
GROULX LED THE ANTISEMITIC
MOVEMENT.
ACHAT CHEZ NOUS, BUY FROM YOUR
OWN.
IT WOULD BE UNFAIR ANYWAY TO
SINGLE OUT CATHOLIC QUEBEC.
TORONTO, ONTARIO AND THE REST OF
IT WOULD BE UNFAIR ANYWAY TO
SINGLE OUT CATHOLIC QUEBEC.
TORONTO, ONTARIO AND THE REST OF
CANADA HAD THEIR OWN FAIR SHARE
OF BIGOTS AND RACISTS.
ON PAGE 283 OF THE NOVEL,
MARGARET MacNEIL MAKES REFERENCE
TO THE SERMONS THUNDERED OUT
EVERY WEEK AT KNOX PRESBYTERIAN,
AND ALWAYS ON THE SAME SUBJECT,
THE INVIDIOUS JEW.
AND THOSE SERMONS REPRINTED IN
THE TORONTO TELEGRAM.
ANTISEMITISM IN THE 1930s WAS
EVERYWHERE.
THE ST. ANDREWS GOLF CLUB, FOR
EXAMPLE, ON JUNE 20th 1937,
POSTED THE FOLLOWING NOTICE,
“AFTER SUNDAY, THIS COURSE WILL
BE RESTRICTED TO GENTILES ONLY.
PLEASE DO NOT QUESTION THIS
POLICY.”
IN THE NOVEL, LITTLE IRENE
MacNEIL REPORTS TO HER PARENTS,
PAGE 104, “JEWS ARE NOT ALLOWED
TO SIT AT THE BUS STOP AT
CARLETON AVENUE.
THEY HAVE PUT UP A SIGN,
'GENTILES ONLY.’”
IN 1937, THE MAYOR OF GALT
CALLED A FELLOW ALDERMAN A
BLOODY JEW, AND SAID, “I HAVE NO
MORE RESPECT FOR A JEW THAN
HITLER HAS.”
THE PREMIER OF
ONTARIO, MITCHELL HEPBURN
DECLARED PUBLICLY THAT THE WHOLE
TRADE UNION MOVEMENT WAS A TOOL
OF JEWISH BOLSHEVISM.
AND THE DEAR, ON NOVEMBER 15th,
1937, DECLARED IN AN EDITORIAL,
“A LARGE PERCENTAGE AND PROBABLY
A MAJORITY OF COMMUNISTS ARE JEWS.”
THAT WASN'T
JUST THE VIEW OF ONE ONTARIO
NEWSPAPER.
IN OUR NOVEL, DOUGLAS MacNEIL
SAYS TO HIS WIFE, PAGE 105, “WE
SHOULDN'T BE LETTING SO MANY OF
THEM IN THE COUNTRY.
I AM SOMEWHAT INCLINED TO
BELIEVE PRIME MINISTER BENNET
WHEN HE SAYS THEY, THE JEWS, ARE
AT THE ROOT OF THE ECONOMIC
PROBLEM.”
LATE IN THE NOVEL, PAGE 297,
DAVID HIRSCH IS SITTING WITH
NON-JEWISH FRIENDS IN MURRAY'S
RESTAURANT, AND ONE OF HIS
FRIENDS IS COMMISERATING.
BAD TIMES FOR JEWS IN GERMANY,
AND DAVID REFLECTS BITTERLY ON
THE ONTARIO SITUATION.
“CAN'T WORK BEHIND THE COUNTER
AT EATONS, CAN'T BUY A COTTAGE
IN THE MUSKOKAS, CAN'T BE A
DOCTOR IN A HOSPITAL, CAN'T
STUDY LAW IN THE UNIVERSITY OF
TORONTO, YOU'VE SEEN THE SIGNS
ON THE PARK BENCHES AT THE
SUNNYBROOK POOL, NO JEWS OR
DOGS.
OH YEAH, IT'S BAD FOR JEWS ALL
RIGHT, WORSE IF YOU'RE NEGRO,
AND IF YOU'RE AN INDIAN, FORGET
ABOUT IT.
AND IT WASN'T JUST THE
ANTISEMITISM THAT WAS SO
DANGEROUS, IT WAS THE ADMIRATION
OF THE STRONG LEADER.
IN 1937, MACKENZIE KING VISITED
HITLER, NO DOUBT ON THE ADVICE
OF HIS DEAD MOTHER OR HIS DOG,
AND ON HIS RETURN TO CANADA, HE
WROTE IN HIS DIARY, AND I QUOTE,
“HITLER IS A JOAN OF ARC, A MAN
WHO TRULY LOVES HIS FELLOW MEN.”
LAUREN DAVIS BRINGS TO VIVID
LIFE THIS TERRIBLE PERIOD OF
CANADIAN HISTORY, BY METICULOUS
RESEARCH AND THE SKILFUL USE OF
DETAIL, SHE MAKES US FEEL THAT
WE ARE THERE.
SHE PUTS A HUMAN FACE ON THE
SUFFERING.
WE ARE THERE IN THE NOVEL WITH
DAVID HIRSCH, THE LITTLE JEWISH
BOY FROM SASKATCHEWAN, AND
SOMETIMES RORY CAMERON, IRENE
MacNEIL'S UNCLE, TRAVELLING FOR
THE PARTY.
WE ARE THERE WITH THEM IN THE
HUNGER MARCHES, THE STREET
DEMONSTRATIONS, THE STARVATION
ENDURED BY ORDINARY PEOPLE, THE
TERRIBLE CONDITIONS IN THE
MINES, AND IN THE SO-CALLED
RELIEF LABOUR CAMPS.
WE ARE THERE WITH RORY CAMERON.
ON AUGUST 23rd, 1933, AT THE
SOFT BALL GAME IN TORONTO, A
CATHOLIC TEAM OF BOYS FROM ST.
PETER'S CHURCH WAS PLAYING A
TEAM OF JEWISH BOYS FROM THE
HARBORD PLAYGROUND AREA.
THEY WERE PLAYING IN WILLOWDALE
PARK, AND THE ANTISEMITISM OF
THE CROWD CAME TO A BOIL, AND
THERE WERE SHOUTS OF KIKE, AND
HEIL HITLER, AND SWASTIKA
BANNERS WERE UNFURLED, AND THE
CROWD ATTACKED THE JEWISH BOYS.
AND THEY WERE SAVED ONLY BY THE
ARRIVAL OF TRUCKLOADS OF JEWS
FROM THE SPADINA AREA.
THEY HAD BEEN SUMMONED BY THE
CRY-- [Speaking Yiddish] THEY'RE
BEATING JEWS.
NO ONE WAS KILLED, BUT SCORES
WERE HOSPITALISED.
THEY WERE PLAYING IN WILLOWDALE
BANNERS WERE UNFURLED, AND THE
CROWD ATTACKED THE JEWISH BOYS.
AND THEY WERE SAVED ONLY BY THE
ARRIVAL OF TRUCKLOADS OF JEWS
FROM THE SPADINA AREA.
THEY HAD BEEN SUMMONED BY THE
CRY-- [Speaking Yiddish] THEY'RE
BEATING JEWS.
NO ONE WAS KILLED, BUT SCORES
WERE HOSPITALISED.
IT'S BRILLIANTLY RENDERED IN THE
NOVEL, WHAT HAS COME TO BE KNOWN
AS THE CHRISTIE PIT RIOT.
ONE LOVELY PASSAGE THAT COMES TO
MY MIND.
RORY CAMERON THE DEDICATED
COMMUNIST IS FIGHTING SIDE BY
SIDE WITH A RABBI WHO HAS A
BROOM HANDLE, AND THE RABBI
LOOKS AT HIM, AND DOESN'T KNOW
WHICH SIDE HE'S ON.
AND SUDDENLY RORY PUNCHES A MAN
WITH A SWASTIKA BUTTON, AND THE
RABBI SAYS, “SHALOM.”
AND RORY REPLIES, “SHALOM,” AS
HE SWEEPS THE FEET FROM UNDER A
THUG WHO'S COMING AT HIM WITH A
BROKEN BOTTLE, AND IT WAS, I
THOUGHT, A LOVELY DELICATE TOUCH
BY LAUREN DAVIS, TO BRING HOME
THE DIVISION IN CANADA AT THE
TIME, BY REPORTING TWO NEWS
STORIES AT THE END OF THE
CHRISTIE PITS SECTION, ONE NEWS
STORY IS FROM THE TORONTO STAR,
BLAMING THE RIOT ON THE SWASTIKA
CLUBS.
AND ANOTHER NEWS STORY IS FROM
THE TORONTO TELEGRAM BLAMING FOR
THE RIOT, THE “JEWISH COMMUNIST
CONSPIRACY.”
WE ARE THERE IN THE NOVEL WITH
DAVID HIRSCH AND RORY CAMERON,
AT THE REGINA RIOT OF 1935 IN
JULY.
DAVID AND RORY, ITINERANT
WORKERS WHEREVER THEY CAN WORK,
HAVE JOINED A TRAINLOAD OF 1,400
MEN, UNEMPLOYED TRAVELLING FROM
VANCOUVER TO OTTAWA TO PRESENT A
PETITION TO R.B. BENNETT, TO THE
FEDERAL PRIME MINISTER,
FRIGHTENED BY WHAT THE
DEMONSTRATION REPRESENTED,
BENNETT FORCED THE RAILWAY
OWNERS TO STOP THE TRAIN IN
REGINA.
HE STRIPPED THE PROVINCE, WHICH
WAS SYMPATHETIC TO THE
UNEMPLOYED, OF ALL ITS POWER.
AND WHEN THE UNEMPLOYED
DEMONSTRATED PEACEFULLY IN
MARKET SQUARE, BENNETT
PERSONALLY DIRECTED THE POLICE
TO CHARGE, TO CHARGE AN UNARMED
CROWD, AND THEY BEAT 18 MEN TO
DEATH, INCLUDING LITTLE IRENE
MacNEIL'S UNCLE RORY CAMERON.
AND WE ARE THERE IN THE NOVEL
WHEN RORY CAMERON DESCRIBES ON
AN EARLIER VISIT TO HIS SISTER
MARGARET MacNEIL, WHAT HE HAD
FOUND IN THE MINES OF NOVA
SCOTIA.
FROM PAGE 85, “IN THE COAL MINES
IN GLACE BAY, THERE'S COAL
MINERS AND THEIR FAMILIES
STARVING TO DEATH, THANKS TO THE
DOMINION COAL COMPANY.
THEY BLACKLIST A MAN IF HE BUYS
FOOD ANYWHERE BUT IN THE COMPANY
STORE, AND THERE THE PRICES ARE
SO HIGH.
HOUSING, SO BAD, THE SNOW PILES
RIGHT UP ON THE FLOOR, AND
BABIES FREEZE TO DEATH IN THEIR
SLEEP, AND THAT'S JUST ONE
PLACE.”
WE ARE THERE IN THE NOVEL WHEN
DAVID HIRSCH IS SLEEPING IN THE
PARK, AND A POLICEMAN BEATS HIM
ON THE SOLES OF HIS BLISTERED
FEET WITH HIS NIGHTSTICK, AND
DAVID HIRSCH DOES NOT MIND THE
30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR VAGRANCY,
BECAUSE THERE, AT LEAST HE WILL EAT.
WE ARE THERE,
DOWN THE ALBERTA COAL MINE WITH
DAVID HIRSCH, WHEN HE WORKS 50
ODD HOURS A WEEK FOR 9 dollars, AND HAS
TO BUY HIS WATER, AND MINERS ARE
ALWAYS THIRSTY, FROM THE
COMPANY.
WE ARE THERE IN THE LABOUR CAMP
WITH DAVID HIRSCH AND RORY
CAMERON, WHEN THEY EARN 50 CENTS
FOR SEVEN DAYS OF BACK BREAKING
WORK, 14 TO 16 HOURS A DAY.
WE ARE THERE
THROUGH ALL THE YEARS OF
SUFFERING AND WE COME TO KNOW
DAVID HIRSCH VERY WELL AS HE
MAKES HIS ODYSSEY ACROSS CANADA.
WE MET HIM FIRST ON THE FOURTH
PAGE OF THE NOVEL, ON THE FAMILY
FARM IN SASKATCHEWAN, IN THE
LITTLE COMMUNITY IN SONNENFELDT,
AND THE SCENE, WHEN WE MEET HIM,
IS IDYLLIC.
WHAT COULD BE WARMER, MORE
COMFORTING THAN A 14 YEAR OLD
BOY MILKING A COW CALLED SOPHIE?
“THE BOY RESTS HIS HEAD AGAINST
THE WARM FLANK OF THE COW, HIS
NAME IS DAVID HIRSCH.
HE IS HALF ASLEEP STILL, AS IS
THE COW.
HER NAME IS SOPHIE, AND SHE
SMELLS OF HAY AND MANURE AND
CREAM.
THE KEROSENE LANTERN THROWS A
SMALL POOL OF YELLOW LIGHT
AROUND HIM.”
BUT THEN, WITHIN THREE PAGES, WE
ARE GIVEN SUCCINCTLY, THE FAMILY
HISTORY, IN CHILLING CONTRAST TO
THE BEAUTIFUL, PASTORAL SCENE WE
HAVE JUST HEARD.
FROM PAGE 8, “THE JEWISH
FAMILIES OF SONNENFELDT HAD FLED
OR SURVIVED THE MASSACRES OF
KARKOV, ODESSA OR KIEV.
DAVID'S FATHER CAME FROM
BIELESTOK TO CANADA WITH HIS
PARENTS IN 1881 WHEN HE WAS 6.
HIS FATHER'S BABY BROTHER DID
NOT GO WITH THEM.
IN THE SLAUGHTER THAT FOLLOWED
THE ASSASSINATION OF TSAR
ALEXANDER, A SOLDIER, A COSSACK
HAD TAKEN LITTLE ASHER BY THE
HEELS AND DROPPED HIM DOWN A
WELL WHERE HE DROWNED.
THE FAMILY BURIED HIM, AND STILL
MOURNING, FLED, AND THE FAMILY
HAS MADE A NEW START ON THE
CANADIAN FARM.”
BUT IN 1930, HARD TIMES HAVE
COME AGAIN.
THE LAND CAN NO LONGER PRODUCE,
AND ANYWAY, THE MARKET HAS
COLLAPSED.
ONE OF DAVID'S BROTHERS AND HIS
WIFE ARE EXPECTING ANOTHER BABY.
ANOTHER OF DAVID'S BROTHERS IS
ABOUT TO BE MARRIED.
THE FARM CANNOT SUPPORT THEM
ALL, AND 14 YEAR OLD DAVID
DETERMINES TO LIGHTEN THE
BURDEN.
ON PAGE 20, “DAVID HAD NOT TOLD
HIS FATHER HE WAS LEAVING, COULD
NOT BEAR SEEING HOW HIS PARTING
WOULD ADD TO THE OLD MAN'S
WORRIES, SEEING NEW LINES
CORRODE HIS VEINED, THREADED
CHEEKS.
HIS FATHER SPOKE SO LITTLE THESE
DAYS, JUST RAKED HIS FINGERS
THROUGH HIS WHITENED BEARD,
LOOKED AT THE SKY, RUBBED EARTH
BETWEEN HIS FINGERS AND SHOOK
HIS HEAD.”
NOW WHEN MOST NORTH AMERICA
WRITERS WRITE OF THE JEWISH
EXPERIENCE, THEY WRITE OF THE
URBAN EXPERIENCE.
I THINK OF PHILIP ROTH, SAUL
BELLOW, MORDECAI RICHLER.
I THOUGHT IT WAS INNOVATIVE AND
DARING OF LAUREN DAVIS TO PUT
DAVID HIRSCH IN A RURAL SETTING.
IT CONTRASTS SO NICELY WITH THE
GROWING UP OF LITTLE IRENE
MacNEIL IN THE WASP CULTURE OF
TORONTO.
WE FOLLOW DAVID ON HIS TRAVELS
AS HE PICKS COTTON, PICKS
TOBACCO, GOES DOWN COAL MINES,
EATS FROM GARBAGE CANS, ENDURES,
PRISON, WORK CAMPS, SOMETHING IN
THE COMPANY OF A MAN HE MET ON
THE ROAD, WHOM WE KNOW AS RORY
CAMERON, IRENE'S UNCLE.
AND DAVID AND RORY ARE ONLY TWO
OF THE TENS, THE HUNDREDS OF
THOUSANDS OF YOUNG MEN WHO ROAM
ACROSS CANADA, RIDING THE RAILS,
FOLLOWING EVERY WHISPER, EVERY
RUMOUR OF WORK.
AND THIS IS HOW LAUREN DAVIS
PUTS THE HUMAN FACE ON
INDIVIDUAL SUFFERING.
SHE GIVES US THE FEEL OF THE
COUNTRY, SHE MAKES US KNOW HOW
IT WAS TO BE THERE AND TO BE
POOR, AND TO BE UNEMPLOYED.
BUT IT IS ALSO THROUGH DAVID
HIRSCH'S JOURNEY OVER A DECADE
THAT LAUREN DAVIS IDENTIFIES THE
POINTS OF LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS,
AND THERE ARE POINTS OF LIGHT.
IN HIS JOURNEY, HE DIPS DOWN
INTO THE STATES, TO NEW YORK
CITY, AND THEN TO CHICAGO, AND
IN CHICAGO, HE GOES INTO A
DINER, A GRILL JOINT, HE WANTS
TO APPLY FOR THE JOB OF WASHER
UP, BUT HE FINDS IT'S ALREADY
OCCUPIED.
IT'S OCCUPIED BY A MAN WHO WORKS
NOT FOR MONEY, BUT FOR THE
KITCHEN SCRAPS HE GETS AT THE
END OF THE DAY AND CAN TAKE
HOME.
IT'S OCCUPIED BY A MAN WHO WORKS
NOT FOR MONEY, BUT FOR THE
KITCHEN SCRAPS HE GETS AT THE
END OF THE DAY AND CAN TAKE
HOME.
HE IS A BLACK MAN, AND HE SAYS,
IF THEY PAID MONEY, I WOULDN'T
HAVE THIS JOB, IT WOULD BE GIVEN
TO A WHITE MAN.
HE TAKES DAVID HOME, AND HE
SAYS, “I CAN'T OFFER YOU MUCH,
BUT I CAN PUT A BOARD OVER THE
BATH AND YOU CAN SLEEP ON THAT.
YOU MUST HAVE SLEPT ON WORSE.
DAVID IS TAKEN TO HIS HOME AND
MADE WELCOME BY THIS MAN.
HE HAS NO NAME, AND HIS WIFE,
VERA.
AND I THOUGHT WHEN I READ IT,
THAT IS THE MOST PERFECT EXAMPLE
OF CHARITY, OF LOVING KINDNESS,
IT IS WHAT
CHRIST WAS TALKING ABOUT IN THE
PARABLE WHEN HE TALKED ABOUT THE
WIDOW GIVING HER MITE.
THE POOR GIVING WITH LOVE, ALL
THAT THEY HAVE.
AND THEN DAVID COMES BACK TO
CANADA, AND ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF
WINNIPEG, HE COMES TO A PLACE HE
HAS HEARD ABOUT IN ONE OF THE
HOBO JUNGLES.
IT'S A GARAGE
WITH A HUGE SIGN, “FREE FOOD.”
IT'S RUN BY A SMILING WOMAN WHO
FEEDS HUNDREDS OF MEN EVERY DAY.
SHE GIVES THEM PORRIDGE, LACED
WITH BEANS AND PEAS AND RAISINS,
NOT APPETISING, BUT NUTRITIOUS,
AND IT IS ALL SHE HAS.
AND THEN THIS GOOD WOMAN GIVES
EACH OF THE MEN, SHE GIVES EACH
OF THE MEN EVERY DAY, A PIECE OF
PAPER, A STUB OF PENCIL AND AN
ENVELOPE WITH A STAMP, AND SHE
SAYS, AND I QUOTE, “WRITE TO YOUR MA.
WRITE TO YOUR MA, SHE'S WORRYING
ABOUT YOU.”
IT IS ON THIS SAME JOURNEY THAT
DAVID HAS HIS FIRST EXPERIENCE
WITH A WOMAN.
HE WORKS FOR FOOD FOR A YOUNG,
ITALIAN WOMAN, WITH A YOUNG SON,
WHOSE HUSBAND ABANDONED THEM TWO
YEARS EARLIER.
AND THEY ARE DRAWN TO EACH
OTHER, AND THEY LIE WITH EACH
OTHER, AND LAUREN DAVIS ENDOWS
THEIR ENCOUNTER WITH A BEAUTY,
ALMOST BEYOND WORDS.
FROM PAGE 197, “DAVID IS AFRAID
HE WILL CRY, FOR HE HAS BEEN
LONELY A LONG TIME, AND HAUNTED,
AND WITH HER BREATH AND TONGUE
AND FINGERTIPS, THIS WOMAN
WASHES OFF THE CRUST HE HAS
BAKED AROUND HIS SKIN.
HE IS NEWBORN NEXT TO HER.”
I WAS REMINDED OF JANE
URQUHART'S GREAT LINE, IN “THE
STONE CARVERS,” WHEN TWO MEN MEET.
“TWO DAMAGED, FRAGMENTED, MIDDLE
AGED MEN, MADE EACH OTHER FRESH
AND WHOLE AND BEAUTIFUL AGAIN.”
IN THOSE TWO PASSAGES, WRITING
DOESN'T GET BETTER THAN THAT.
BUT THE REALITY OF THE OUTSIDE
WORLD INTRUDES, AND DAVID
REALISES THAT, “A JEW CANNOT
STAY AND LIVE IN THIS PLACE WITH
A WOMAN CALLED MARIA.”
LAUREN DAVIS USES DETAIL TO
GREAT EFFECT, BUT ON OCCASION,
SHE GOES FROM THE PARTICULAR TO
THE GENERAL.
WHEN COAL MINERS AT MOOSE RIVER
IN NOVA SCOTIA ARE RESCUED AFTER
A TERRIBLE PIT DISASTER, PAGE
145, “THE MEN WERE PULLED FROM
THE EARTH BLIND AND WEAK AS
NEWBORN MOLES AND THE PEOPLE OF
TORONTO POURED OUT INTO THE
STREETS, LAUGHING AND CRYING.
THE BELLS AT CITY HALL PEALED
OUT A JOYFUL NOISE AND ALL
ACROSS THE CITY, SPONTANEOUS
CELEBRATIONS BURST FORTH.
WHAT LAUREN DAVIS IS SHOWING
BOTH IN THE PARTICULAR AND IN
THE GENERAL, IS THAT THERE IS
HUMAN DECENCY.
IT MAY BE OVERSHADOWED BY
ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL TYRANNY,
AND BY RACISM, BUT IT IS THERE,
AS A GREAT UNTAPPED RESOURCE, IF
ONLY WE KNEW HOW TO GO INTO IT.
BUT LAUREN DAVIS IS CAREFUL NOT
TO OFFER SIMPLE ANSWERS TO
COMPLEX PROBLEMS.
SHE IS CAREFUL, FOR EXAMPLE, NOT
TO IDEALISE THE POOR, THE
WRETCHED, THE UNEMPLOYED.
WHEN DAVID HIRSCH AT 14, FIRST
JUMPED ON A TRAIN TO LEAVE HIS
SASKATCHEWAN HOME, HE IS ROBBED
OF ALMOST EVERYTHING HE HAS BY
FELLOW VAGRANTS.
MUCH LATER IN THE NOVEL, IN A
HOBO JUNGLE, HE WITNESSES MURDER
OVER A DRUNKEN ARGUMENT.
BUT THE PERPETRATOR IS NOT TOO
DRUNK TO PULL THE VICTIM TO A
NEARBY RAILWAY, TO PUT HIS HEAD
ON THE RAIL, SO THAT IN THE
ON THE RAIL, SO THAT IN THE
MORNING, IT WILL JUST BE ANOTHER
UNEMPLOYED MAN WHO COMMITTED
SUICIDE, OR A HOBO WHO FAILED TO
JUMP ONTO A MOVING TRAIN.
AND IN SIMILAR VEIN, LAUREN
DAVIS HAS DAVID HIRSCH AVOID
MOVING TO THE SOLUTIONS OFFERED
BY THE FAR LEFT, HOWEVER MUCH HE
ADMIRED HIS FRIEND RORY CAMERON.
IN A POLITICAL CONVERSATION HE
HAS TOWARD THE END OF THE NOVEL
WITH IRENE MacNEIL, HE MAKES HIS
POSITION CLEAR, FROM PAGE 311,
DAVID SPEAKING, “THERE WAS A
TIME I THOUGHT THERE MAY BE A
REAL REVOLUTION.
NOW, I DON'T SEE IT.
MAYBE THERE IS SOME HOPE IN
SOCIALISM.
THERE ARE SOME GOOD GUYS IN THE
PARTY, BUT NO REAL LEADERS.
THEY FIGHT AND FRACTION AND PUSH
AND SHOVE AND WANT POWER JUST
LIKE ANY OTHER POOR BASTARD.”
HOW IS IT THAT THIS YOUNG JEW,
DAVID HIRSCH, AFTER NEARLY A
DECADE FROM RURAL SASKATCHEWAN,
COMES TO MEET IRENE MacNEIL,
MIDDLE CLASS, WASP FROM THAT
CULTURE.
FOUR YEARS YOUNGER, BORN,
BROUGHT UP IN TORONTO.
HE COMES TO TORONTO TO GIVE THE
MacNEIL FAMILY THE NEWS OF RORY
CAMERON'S DEATH IN THE REGINA
RIOT OF 1935, MURDERED BY THE
POLICE.
WE HAVE OF COURSE BEEN FOLLOWING
THE MacNEIL FAMILY FROM THE VERY
FIRST PAGE OF THE NOVEL.
WE MEET IRENE, AS WE MET DAVID
HIRSCH, IN OCTOBER OF 1929 IN
TORONTO.
OUR INTRODUCTION TO THE 10 YEAR
OLD IRENE, ON THE FIRST PAGE OF
THE NOVEL TAKES THE FORM OF A
BRILLIANT EVOCATION OF HOW SMALL
IS THE WORLD OF A CHILD.
THE FIRST PARAGRAPH OF THE NOVEL
ANTHROPOMORPHISES THE HOUSE IN
WHICH IRENE AND HER MOTHER AND
HER FATHER LIVE.

As he speaks, he handles the book.

He continues
“SOMETIMES 10 YEAR OLD IRENE MacNEIL LAY IN
BED AT NIGHT AND LISTENED.
IT WAS A WEIRD TRICK OF THE
HOUSE THAT THE RADIATORS AND AIR
VENTS ACTED AS A KIND OF
AMPLIFICATION SYSTEM CONDUCTING
EVERY SOUND, THE GURGLE OF WATER
IN THE PIPES, THE HUM OF THE
REFRIGERATOR, HER FATHER'S
SNORE, HER MOTHER'S BODY
TURNING, MAKING THE COILS OF THE
BEDSPRINGS SQUEAK.
SHE IMAGINED
THE HOUSE WAS A CREATURE IN
WHICH THEY ALL LIVED.”
HOW SMALL, HOW SMALL IS THE
WORLD OF A CHILD, AND YET IT IS
THE ONLY WORLD A CHILD KNOWS.
AND IRENE GOES ON TO CALL THAT
LITTLE HOUSE, “A NARROW JUMBLED
UP HOUSE,” AND THAT'S A LOVELY
CHILDLIKE EXPRESSION.
AND THEN IT COMES AS SUCH A
SHOCK TO KNOW THAT HER CHILDHOOD
IS NOT A HAPPY ONE.
HER PARENTS FIGHT CONSTANTLY,
THE CONFRONTATIONS USUALLY
INITIATED BY THE MOTHER, BY
MARGARET.
ONE SUCH INCIDENT COMES EARLY,
ON PAGE 4.
MARGARET SEES THE HEADLINE IN
THE PAPER HER HUSBAND DOUGLAS IS
READING AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE.
IT'S THE TORONTO STAR, AND THE
HEADLINE IS, “STOCK PRICES CRASH.”
IT IS OCTOBER, 1929.
AND MARGARET SEEN ANOTHER
OPPORTUNITY TO REPROACH HER
HUSBAND FOR ANOTHER FAILURE.
SHE SAYS TO HIM, “WE SHOULD HAVE
INVESTED WHILE WE HAD THE
CHANCE.
THE BOOM IS ALL OVER NOW, ISN'T
IT, AND WE'VE LOST OUR
OPPORTUNITY.”
AND DOUGLAS MacNEIL RESPONDS,
NOT UNREASONABLY, “WOULD YOU
RATHER WE HAD PUT ALL OUR MONEY
IN THE STOCK MARKET AND LOST IT?
I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU, MY
DEAR.”
AND MARGARET, “NO YOU DON'T.
I DON'T THINK YOU EVER HAVE.”
AND IN THOSE 10 SYLLABLES, WE
HAVE THE WHOLE KEY TO MARGARET
MacNEIL'S PERSONALITY.
SHE IS THE SELF APPOINTED
VICTIM, THE HEROINE OF HER OWN
CREATED TRAGEDY.
HER BITTERNESS WILL SWELL UP,
UNTIL THERE IS NO ROOM ON THE
STAGE, WHICH IS HER LITTLE
HOUSE, FOR SECONDARY CHARACTERS
LIKE HER HUSBAND AND HER CHILD.
AND 10 YEAR OLD IRENE HAS TO
LEARN TO BE HYPER-VIGILANT,
INTENSELY AWARE, OF WHAT IS
GOING ON BETWEEN HER PARENTS,
AND WHAT MIGHT BE GOING ON IN
HER MOTHER'S MIND.
ALTHOUGH SHE DOESN'T REALLY
UNDERSTAND IT, SHE'S 10 YEARS
OLD, SHE KNOWS THAT SOMETHING
TERRIBLE IS HAPPENING TO HER
MOTHER, AND THAT SOMETHING
TERRIBLE HAS SOMETHING TO DO
WITH THE BIG ADULT WORLD SHE
HEARS ALL THE TIME ON THE RADIO,
SEES ALL THE TIME IN THE
HEADLINES -- DEPRESSION.
FROM PAGE 16, “IRENE WAS
FRIGHTENED BY THE STRANGE WOMAN
WHO HAD COME TO TAKE HER
MOTHER'S PLACE, WHO LOOKED LIKE
HER MOTHER, BUT BEHAVED SO
ODDLY.
SHE PICTURED HER MOTHER'S
DEPRESSION LIKE A SHADOWY FOG
THAT SLIPPED AROUND DOORWAYS AND
THROUGH PLASTER CRACKS AND ALONG
THE PIPES.”
DEPRESSION, NOT A WORD SHE
UNDERSTANDS.
I HAD A WORD LIKE THAT WHEN I
WE GREW VEGETABLES, WE HAD
PLENTY TO EAT, BUT I NEVER SAW,
UNTIL I WAS... 14, A GRAPE, A
BANANA, AN ORANGE, ICE CREAM,
CHOCOLATE.
ONE DAY I WENT INTO THE PANTRY
AND I SAW A CAN, A TIN ON MY
MOTHER'S SHELF.
AND I SAID TO MY MOTHER, “WHAT
IS THAT?”
AND SHE SAID, “PEACHES.”
HUH?
I SAID, “WHAT'S IT FOR?”
SHE SAID, “EMERGENCY.”
[Audience laughter]
UNTIL I WAS 15 YEARS OLD, I
THOUGHT EMERGENCY WAS A PERSON
WHO CAME ONCE A WEEK TO TAKE
TRIBUTE.
[Audience laughter]
MOVEMENTS OF INNOCENCE, IRENE
MacNEIL HAS TO BE CALCULATING
AND CONTROLLED.
ON ONE OCCASION, SHE COMES HOME
FROM SCHOOL, SHE HAS BEEN
INVITED BY HER ONE FRIEND, ABBY
WATKINS, HER ONE TRUE FRIEND,
ALWAYS HER TRUE FRIEND, ANOTHER
LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS.
SHE'S BEEN INVITED BY ABBY
WATKINS TO STAY OVER ON FRIDAY
NIGHT, A SLEEP OVER PARTY.
IRENE MUST ASK HER MOTHER.
IRENE, ON PAGE 33, PAUSES AT THE
DOOR OF HER HOUSE.
PERHAPS SHE SHOULD WAIT FOR
ANOTHER DAY.
SHE STRAINED TO HEAR SOUNDS FROM
INSIDE THE HOUSE.
YOU COULD TELL A GREAT DEAL FROM
SOUNDS.
IF THE RADIO WAS ON, THAT WAS A
GOOD SIGN.
IF THE RECORD PLAYER WAS PLAYING
COLE PORTER, THAT WAS EVEN
BETTER, UNLESS IT WAS, “LOVE FOR
SALE,” WHICH WAS BAD.

[Audience laughter]

Robert continues THE SMELL OF
COOKING WAS ALSO GOOD.
THE CURTAIN TO HER PARENTS'
BEDROOM ON THE SECOND FLOOR WERE
PULLED OPEN, THOUGH, AND THAT
WAS A GOOD SIGN.
MAYBE HER MOTHER WAS IN THE BACK
GARDEN, THAT WOULD BE GOOD, TOO.”
BUT SHE MISREADS THE SIGNS.
SHE IS ONLY 10 YEARS OLD, AND
WHEN SHE MAKES THE REQUEST, HER
MOTHER GOES INTO A FIT OF RAGE
AND ATTACKS THE CHILD AT EVERY
POINT WHERE THE MOTHER THINKS
SHE IS VULNERABLE.
FROM PAGE 36, “'HE DRINKS, YOU
KNOW, YOUR PRECIOUS FATHER.'
HER VOICE ROSE TO A SCREAM, AND
HER HANDS WERE BACK IN HER HAIR,
PULLING AND TEARING.
'WEAK AND DIRTY, THE BASTARD,
WEAK AND DIRTY!'
AND THEN, 'I'VE BEEN THINKING,
HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING
INTO THE ORPHANAGE?
MAYBE YOU'D LIKE THAT.
I'VE BEEN THINKING FOR A LONG
TIME AND I THINK IT MIGHT JUST
BE FOR THE BEST.’”
TO A 10 YEAR OLD -- AND WHAT IS
EVEN MORE TERRIBLE IS IRENE'S
CALM REACTION TO HER MOTHER'S
OUTBURSTS.
“OF COURSE SHE WOULD HAVE TO
TELL ABBY SHE WOULDN'T BE ABLE
TO COME OVER ON FRIDAY.
IT WAS QUITE CLEAR HER MOTHER
NEEDED HER AT HOME.”
ONE COULD WEEP AT THE PITY OF IT.
A LITTLE GIRL TRYING TO ARRANGE
THE FACTS OF HER LITTLE LIFE
INTO A COMPREHENSIBLE PATTERN,
SOMETHING SHE CAN UNDERSTAND.
AND WE REALISE THEN, THAT IN HER
OWN WAY, IRENE MacNEIL IS
SUFFERING JUST AS DEEPLY FROM
HER MOTHER'S DEPRESSION, AS FAR
AWAY, DAVID HIRSCH IS SUFFERING
FROM A DIFFERENT KIND OF
DEPRESSION ON A LARGER SCALE.
AT ONE POINT IN THE NOVEL, WHEN
MARGARET IN HER HYSTERIA,
ACCUSES HER HUSBAND OF SEEING
ANOTHER WOMAN, IRENE, LITTLE
IRENE MacNEIL IN HER BEDROOM,
TURNS TO HER DOLL, NOREEN.
SHE KNOWS SHE IS TOO OLD, I
QUOTE, “TOO OLD BY FAR” TO BE
TALKING TO HER DOLL, BUT, PAGE
74, “IRENE SMOOTHED NOREEN'S SEA
GREEN DRESS OVER THE DOLL'S
PORCELAIN LEGS.
'DON'T BE AFRAID', SHE SAID,
'I'M RIGHT HERE.
I'M RIGHT HERE, DON'T BE AFRAID.
AND AFTER A WHILE, IRENE HEARD
HER FATHER MAKE UP A BED ON THE
COUCH.
SHE LAY QUIETLY TRYING TO FALL
ASLEEP, BUT IT WASN'T EASY.
'GOOD NIGHT, NOREEN', SHE
WHISPERED TO HER DOLL.”
IT IS THE SIMPLICITY OF THE
SCENE, MAKES IT SO TERRIBLY
AUTHENTIC AND SO TERRIBLY
DISTRESSING.
AND AS MARGARET MacNEIL'S
CONDITION WORSENS, THE HOUSE
BECOMES A PRISON FOR IRENE, FROM
WHICH SHE IS RELEASED ONLY TO GO
TO SCHOOL.
THE HOUSE IS ALWAYS DARK, THE
BLINDS ARE ALWAYS DRAWN,
IRENE IS NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY
WITH OTHER CHILDREN, NOT THAT
THEY WOULD BE ALLOWED TO PLAY
WITH HER.
EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT HER
DRUNKEN FATHER AND HER LUNATIC
MOTHER.
IN HER SEWING CLASS AT SCHOOL,
SHE HEARS ANGELA McMURHPY
WHISPER TO VERA CARVER, ABOUT
THE SEWING SCISSORS LYING
NEARBY.
IT WAS WRONG TO LET PEOPLE WITH
LUNACY IN THEIR FAMILY NEAR
SHARP THINGS.
AND ALWAYS, ALWAYS, THERE IS THE
DESPERATE, DESPERATE EFFORT BY
LITTLE IRENE MacNEIL TO MAKE HER
LIFE NORMAL, AT LEAST TO HAVE
THE APPEARANCE OF NORMALCY.
TO IMPOSE ORDER, MEANING ON THE
NIGHTMARE SHE LIVES IN.
WHEN HER ONE FRIEND, ABBY
WATKINS ASKS AFTER HER MOTHER'S
HEALTH, SHE SAYS, PAGE 28,
“NOTHING IS WRONG WITH HER, NOT
REALLY.
DADDY SAYS HER NERVES ARE BAD,
AND SHE'S FRAGILE.
IT'S A SIGN OF GOOD BREEDING,
YOU KNOW.”
SOMETIMES IRENE DREAMS THAT HER
MOTHER'S BROTHER, HER UNCLE RORY
WILL COME BACK FROM HER TRAVELS
AND SAVE HER.
ON ONE OF HIS RARE VISITS, SHE
SAYS, “TAKE ME AWAY WITH YOU.”
HIS ROAD IS TOO ROUGH FOR A
LITTLE GIRL, BUT RORY CAMERON IS
AN INTELLIGENT MAN, AND HE SEES
THE IRONY, THAT HE IS BUSY
SAVING THE WORLD, TOO BUSY TO
SAVE A LITTLE GIRL.
ONE OF THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDIES OF
THE NOVEL IS THAT EVERY ADULT
PARTICIPANT HAS SELF AWARENESS.
EVERYBODY IN THE NOVEL, EVERY
ADULT IN THE NOVEL KNOWS WHO HE
OR SHE IS, AND WHAT HE IS.
FROM IRENE'S FATHER, THERE IS NO
COMFORT, ALTHOUGH HE DOES LOVE
HER.
DOUGLAS MacNEIL IS A PHARMACIST
AND A CLASSIC ALCOHOLIC, WITH
BOTTLES HIDDEN ALL OVER THE
HOUSE, ALL OVER HIS PHARMACY.
HIS LITTLE DAUGHTER IRENE TRIES
TO HELP HIM.
SHE FINDS ONE OF HIS BOTTLES,
AND SHE POURS IT OUT.
FROM PAGE 102, “SHE PUT THE
BOTTLE BACK, HOPING HER FATHER
WOULD FIND IT, AND UNDERSTAND
THAT SHE'D GOT RID OF IT AND
LEFT THE EMPTY HUSK AS A SILENT
PLEA.
THREE DAYS LATER, ANOTHER BOTTLE
TOOK ITS PLACE.
DOUGLAS MacNEIL IS NOT A BAD MAN
AT HEART, HE IS JUST A WEAK MAN
IN THE GRIP OF HIS DISEASE.
TWICE IN THE NOVEL, HE MAKES AN
EFFORT TO REGAIN SOBRIETY.
THE FIRST TIME
IS WHEN HE IS MISTAKENLY
ARRESTED AT THE DEMONSTRATION.
HE WITNESSES THE POLICE BEAT A
MAN TO A PULP, AND HE PROMISES
GOD THAT HE WILL NEVER DRINK
AGAIN IF HE ESCAPES FROM THE
JAIL UNHARMED, AND THEN HE IS RELEASED.
ONE OF THE POLICEMEN IS THE SON OF A
NEIGHBOUR.
BUT THAT PROMISE LASTS ONLY AS
LONG AS IT TAKES HIM TO GET TO
THE BOTTLE IN HIS CLOSET AT
HOME.
PAGE 75, “A VOICE IN HIS HEAD
TOLD HIM THAT AFTER ALL HE'D
BEEN THROUGH, IT WAS ONLY
NATURAL TO HAVE A DRINK TO
SETTLE HIS NERVES.
HE KNEW THIS WAS NONSENSE BUT
WAS POWERLESS OVER IT.
HE WAS A MORAL COWARD.”
AND LIKE RORY CAMERON, THAT IS
HIS BURDEN, TO HAVE FULL SELF
AWARENESS.
HIS SECOND ATTEMPT TO FREE
HIMSELF, IS WHEN A WOMAN COMES
INTO HIS GRIMY, NEGLECTED
PHARMACY.
SHE WANTS MEDICINE, SHE HAS 2 dollars.
IT COSTS 5 AND CHANGE.
SHE CAN'T PAY HIM, AND SHE SAYS,
“CAN'T WE DISCUSS THIS IN
PRIVATE?
I WOULD BE SO GRATEFUL.”
HE TAKES HER INTO THE STOCKROOM.
THERE IS A BRIEF, BRUTAL
ENCOUNTER.
SHE WEEPS ALL THE TIME, AND
AFTER HE IS HORRIFIED AT THE
DEPTHS TO WHICH HE HAS FALLEN.
HE SAYS, COME BACK ANY TIME FOR
MEDICINE.
HE MAKES WILD, INCREDIBLE
PROMISES TO HIMSELF.
PAGE 133, “HE WOULD STOP
DRINKING, HE'D TURN OVER A NEW
LEAF, CLEAN THE SHOP.
HE WOULD BE BETTER, A BETTER
HUSBAND, A BETTER FATHER, A
BETTER MAN, IF ONLY HE COULD BE
FORGIVEN FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE.”
AND THEN HE GOES HOME, AND IN
FRONT OF HIS LITTLE DAUGHTER, HE
POURS OUT A FULL BOTTLE OF
ALCOHOL.
BUT IRENE IS BY NOW 14, AND SHE
IS WISE, WISE, FAR WISER THAN
SHE SHOULD BE IN THE WAYS OF THE
WORLD.
PAGE 136, “'OH, DADDY, WHAT'S
THE POINT?
I KNOW YOU MEAN TO STOP, BUT--'
'BUT NOTHING, IT'S GOING TO BE
DIFFERENT THIS TIME, I PROMISE YOU.'
'ALL RIGHT, DAD, ALL RIGHT.
IT'S GOOD, DAD, REALLY.
I'M JUST GOING TO GO UP AND MAKE
SURE MUM IS ALL RIGHT, BEFORE I
LEAVE, OKAY?'.”
AND IN THAT BRILLIANT PASSAGE,
WE SEE THE TRANSITION OF THE
LITTLE GIRL FROM BEING A CHILD
TO BEING A PARENT, REASSURING,
COMFORTING, TAKING CHARGE.
DOUGLAS WILL NOT LAST MUCH
LONGER.
HE MANAGES TO STAY SOBER FOR A
WHILE.
HIS AGONY IS EXCRUCIATING,
SUPERBLY RENDERED.
BUT THEN, AFTER HE HAS CLEANED
UP HIS STORE, A NEIGHBOUR,
ANOTHER SHOPKEEPER COMES IN,
PRAISES HIM FOR WHAT HE HAS
DONE, AND INVITES HIM FOR A
DRINK TO CELEBRATE.
LOVELY IRONY, IN FACT, IT WASN'T
REALLY TO COME AND HAVE A DRINK
TO CELEBRATE, IT WAS TO COME AND
HAVE A DRINK AND MEET A THIRD
PARTY WHO IS FORMING A NEW
ANTI-SEMITIC ASSOCIATION.
DOUGLAS MacNEIL GETS HOPELESSLY
LOVELY IRONY, IN FACT, IT WASN'T
REALLY TO COME AND HAVE A DRINK
TO CELEBRATE, IT WAS TO COME AND
HAVE A DRINK AND MEET A THIRD
PARTY WHO IS FORMING A NEW
ANTI-SEMITIC ASSOCIATION.
DOUGLAS MacNEIL GETS HOPELESSLY
DRUNK, WANDERS INTO THE STREET,
AND IS RUN OVER.
IT'S THE END OF A PATHETIC LIFE.
IT WOULD BE EASY TO DISLIKE
DOUGLAS MacNEIL, THE DRUNK, THE
INEFFECTUAL FATHER, BUT LAUREN
DAVIS'S COMPASSION FOR HIM IS
SO...
BRILLIANTLY RENDERED THAT WE
CANNOT HATE HIM.
WE DO REMEMBER HIS DAILY
ANTI-SEMITIC COMMENTS AT THE
BREAKFAST TABLE, BUT YOU DON'T
HAVE TO BE A GENIUS TO
UNDERSTAND HIM.
IN THE JEW, THE ETERNAL
SCAPEGOAT, THIS MAN HAS FOUND
SOMEONE HE CAN DESPISE EVEN MORE
THAN HE DESPISES HIMSELF.
NO, LAUREN DAVIS'S COMPASSION
FOR THIS SAD FAILURE IS ONLY A
PART OF HER COMPASSION FOR ALL
HER CREATIONS.
SOME WRITERS LEARN TO EXERCISE
COMPASSION ONLY LATE IN THEIR
WRITING CAREERS.
T. COREGESSIN BOYLE, THE
AMERICAN SATIRIST, WHOSE WORK I
ALWAYS ADMIRED, ONLY LEARNED
COMPASSION FOR HIS CREATIONS
LATE IN “THE TORTILLA CURTAIN.”
MORDECAI RICHLER, WHOSE WORK I
REVERED AS PERFECT PROSE, ONLY I
THINK, LEARNED COMPASSION FOR
HIS CREATION IN HIS FINAL NOVEL,
“BARNEY'S VERSION.”
IT IS REMARKABLE TO ME, THAT A
WRITER SHOULD EXERCISE SUCH
COMPASSION IN WHAT IS HER FIRST
NOVEL.
MARGARET MEANWHILE, HAS NEVER
RELENTED IN HER BATTLE TO REDUCE
IRENE TO BEING NO MORE THAN AN
EXTENSION OF HERSELF.
AND TO THAT END, THERE MUST BE
NO ONE BUT HER IN IRENE'S LIFE.
SHE MAKES A DIRECT ATTACK ON
IRENE'S FAITHFUL FRIEND, LITTLE
ABBY WATKINS, PAGE 49.
“SHE'S THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL,
YOU KNOW.
JUST LOOK AT HER.
BUT I SUPPOSE YOU PREFER BEING
WITH HER TO BEING WITH YOUR
MOTHER.
WELL NOW I KNOW WHERE WE STAND
WITH EACH OTHER.”
THE TYRANNY OF THE WEAK.
IS MARGARET MacNEIL A MONSTER?
CERTAINLY SHE COULD SEEM SO, SHE
RAILS AT HER HUSBAND WHILE HE IS
THERE, AND TORMENTS HER DAUGHTER
WHOM SHE MAKES SURE IS THERE ALL
THE TIME.
SHE NEVER GOES OUT, SPENDS MOST
OF HER TIME IN HER DARKENED
BEDROOM DREAMING OF THE PARTIES
AND THE LAUGHTER AND HER YOUTH.
WHEN SHE WAS
YOUNG, BEFORE THE FIRST WAR,
THERE WAS A YOUNG MAN WHOM SHE
LIKED, JOHN CARLYLE.
HE WENT OFF TO WAR, AND SHE
DREAMS OF THE LIFE THEY MIGHT
HAVE HAD TOGETHER IF SHE HADN'T
SETTLED FOR THE SAFE PHARMACIST,
DOUGLAS MacNEIL, 10 YEARS HER
SENIOR WHEN SHE WAS 20.
SHE BLOCKS OUT
THE REALITY THAT JOHN CARLYLE
CAME BACK FROM THE FIRST WAR A
BROKEN MAN.
AND SHE DREAMS OF WHAT SHE
CALLS, “THE BIG LIFE,” IN NEW
YORK.
AND SHE CONTRASTS THAT DREAM
WITH HER PRESENT REALITY, PAGE
10, “LIFE HAD TURNED OUT TO BE
SO SMALL.
SHE HAD HAD SUCH HIGH HOPES, AND
NOW IT WAS ALL PINCHING PENNIES
AND SAVING FOR THE FUTURE, AND
NOT LIVING BEYOND THEIR MEANS, A
SMALL HOUSE, A SMALL SAVINGS
ACCOUNT, A SMALL FUTURE.”
THAT'S A BEAUTIFULLY CONSTRUCTED
PARAGRAPH.
THE WORD SMALL IS USED FOUR
TIMES, EACH TIME CARRYING MORE
WEIGHT.
IT'S A POETIC TECHNIQUE CALLED
INCREMENTAL REPETITION, AND I
HAVE SELDOM SEEN IT USED BETTER.
BITTER, EVER MORE BITTER,
MARGARET REVELS IN HER
BITTERNESS.
SHE REMEMBERS THE MECHANICAL SEX
OF HER WEDDING NIGHT, WHEN
DOUGLAS SAID TO HER AFTERWARDS,
PAGE 12, “I HOPE IT DIDN'T SHOCK
YOU.
DID YOUR MOTHER TALK TO YOU?”
CRAZED BY DISAPPOINTMENT AND
WHATEVER DISORDER HAS OVERTAKEN
HER, LET'S USE THE GLOBAL
EXPRESSION, BORDERLINE
PERSONALITY DISORDER, BIPOLAR,
MANIC DEPRESSIVE, WHO KNOWS.
I'M NO MEDICAL MAN.
MARGARET MacNEIL LASHES OUT AT
THE EASIEST AND THE NEAREST
VICTIM AND THAT'S HER DAUGHTER.
DOUGLAS CAN ESCAPE TO THE BOTTLE
OR TO THE STORE, AND THE PITY IS
THAT MARGARET KNOWS HERSELF, AS
RORY CAMERON KNEW HIMSELF, AS
DOUGLAS MacNEIL KNEW HIMSELF.
THERE IS A TERRIBLE STRUGGLE
WITHIN HER, AND SHE WAS AWARE OF
IT, PAGE 10, “IT WAS AS THOUGH
SOME OTHER WOMAN LIVED INSIDE HER.
THE TRUE MARGARET WAS SWEET AND
LOVING AND CARING, BUT THIS
OTHER MARGARET WAS A NASTY,
BITTER PIECE OF WORK WHO
COULDN'T BE CONTROLLED.
SHE DOES TRY.
THE SANE SIDE DOES TRY TO
CONTROL THE INSANE SIDE.
SHE CLINGS TO THE LAST REMNANTS
OF HER GENTEEL MIDDLE CLASS
LIFE.
EVERY CHRISTMAS SHE MAKES A
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS WITH
PRESENTS, A TREE, A SMALL
TURKEY.
DOUGLAS CO-OPERATES ALTHOUGH FOR
HIM, IT'S A WHITE KNUCKLE
EXPERIENCE TO STAY SOBER.
AT TIMES, NOT OFTEN, BUT AT
TIMES, SHE REACHES OUT,
MARGARET, TO HER HUSBAND.
BUT HE HAS HIS OWN DEMONS.
HE'S TOO WEAK TO HELP HER, OTHER
THAN TO GIVE HER PILLS TO SLEEP.
NEVERTHELESS, THE RARE EXCHANGES
BETWEEN THEM ARE TOUCHING, AS
SHE PUTS INTO WORDS HER
TREMENDOUS NEED, ON PAGE 17,
MARGARET: “'I DON'T KNOW WHY I
GET SO SCARED.'
DOUGLAS: 'I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU
DO EITHER.'
'YOU WILL TAKE CARE OF US, WON'T
YOU?'
'OF COURSE I WILL.'
'I KNOW YOU WILL.
WE'RE GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT.'
'WE'RE GOING TO BE FINE, MY
DEAR.'
'DO YOU LOVE ME?'
'I LOVE YOU.'
'I LOVE YOU, TOO, DOUGLAS, I DO,
YOU KNOW I DO'.”
AND MUCH LATER, AFTER DOUGLAS
DIES, MARGARET CONFESSES HER
FEAR TO HER DAUGHTER IRENE, PAGE
305, “I LOVE YOU, IRENE.
I WOULDN'T BLAME YOU IF YOU
DIDN'T LOVE ME.
I CAN'T KEEP THE CROWS AWAY.
I KEEP SWATTING AT THEM.”
CROWS ARE HER METAPHOR FOR THE
DARKNESSES IN HER MIND.
“'I CAN'T HELP IT.'
IRENE SAT ON THE SIDE OF THE BED
AND TOOK HER MOTHER'S HAND.
'OF COURSE I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE MY
MUM.'
MARGARET'S HAND WAS SUDDENLY
TIGHT ON HERS, 'I DON'T WANT IT
TO BE THIS WAY, I DON'T WANT TO
BE WHAT I AM, I DON'T WANT TO
SAY THINGS.
I CAN'T HELP MYSELF, IRENE,
WORDS FLY OUT, THEY JUST FLY.
I CAN'T HELP MYSELF.’”
AND SHE CAN'T.
WHEN DOUGLAS DIES, MARGARET,
WITH HER FEAR OF THE OUTSIDE, OF
SPACE, HER AGORAPHOBIA.
SHE DOESN'T ATTEND THE FUNERAL,
IT IS FOR IRENE, BY NOW 17, TO
ARRANGE THE FUNERAL, TO TAKE
CARE OF DIFFICULT RELATIVES, SHE
IS ONLY 17, BUT AS HAD HAPPENED
WITH HER FATHER, SHE MUST NOW
BECOME THE PARENT.
AND ALL SHE RECEIVES FROM HER
MOTHER IS ABUSE.
“YOU'RE A CRUEL GIRL,” THE DAY
OF THE FUNERAL.
“YOU'RE A CRUEL GIRL, MY
HUSBAND'S JUST DIED, AND YOU
WON'T EVEN LET ME TALK ABOUT IT.
THAT'S JUST LIKE YOU.
YOU'RE UPSET AND THAT'S ALL THAT
COUNTS.
YOUR FATHER WASN'T THE MAN YOU
THOUGHT HE WAS.
HE WANTED MORE CHILDREN, YOU
KNOW.
HE WANTED A SON.
THAT WAS HIS BIG REGRET, NOT
HAVING A SON.”
AT 17 -- MARGARET MAKES A
DECISION TO USE THE LIFE
INSURANCE MONEY FROM HER FATHER,
HER FATHER HAD MADE HER
BENEFICIARY, NOT HER MOTHER, TO
RENOVATE HER FATHER'S STORE.
SHE WILL LEAVE SCHOOL, SHE WILL
LOOK AFTER IT.
IT CAN'T BE A PHARMACY, BUT IT
COULD BE AN ICE CREAM PARLOUR,
AND A GIFT SHOP, A DRY GOODS
STORE, NOTIONS.
SHE WILL LEAVE SCHOOL, SHE WILL
RUN IT.
AND IN THE FACE OF IRENE'S
OBVIOUS MATURITY, MARGARET
BEGINS TO PANIC.
IRENE MUST NOT LEAVE HER, SHE
CANNOT BE ALONE.
REASONING WITHIN HER UNBALANCED
SELF, SHE UNDERSTANDS THAT, PAGE
212, “ONLY TWO THINGS WOULD
HAPPEN IF SHE DIDN'T LEARN A NEW
WAY OF PRESENTING HERSELF TO THE
WORLD.
EITHER IRENE WOULD LEAVE, OR
MARGARET WOULD BE SENT TO THE
BUG HOUSE.
TERROR KEPT MARGARET TRYING, IF
NOT TO BE NORMAL, THEN AT LEAST
TO FEIGN NORMALCY.
AND SHE FEIGNS, SHE PRETENDS,
NORMALCY BY BECOMING, AT LEAST
ON THE SURFACE, THE MODEL
MOTHER, AND THAT UNNERVES IRENE
ALMOST AS MUCH AS THE OLD BAD
MARGARET.
PAGE 119, “HAVING DINNER ON THE
TABLE WHEN SHE GOT HOME, ASKING
ABOUT HER DAY, COMMENTING ON HER
CLOTHES AND HAIR, ASKING TOO
INTIMATE QUESTIONS ABOUT HER
MONTHLY CYCLE, HER FEELINGS
ABOUT MEN, BUT UNDERNEATH THE
SURFACE, MARGARET'S MIND IS
STILL RAGING.
SHE HAS GONE TO HER MINISTER FOR
HELP, TO HER CHURCH FOR HELP, TO
GOD FOR HELP.
SHE HAS READ HER BIBLE, SHE HAS
GONE TO HER MINISTER.
AND SHE GOES TO HER MINISTER,
AND HIS ADVICE, “BE PATIENT,
BRETHREN, THEREFORE UNTO THE
COMING OF THE LORD,” JAMES
CHAPTER 5, VERSE 7.

[Murmuring]

He continues AND IT IS THEN
THAT MARGARET, OR THE MAD SIDE
OF MARGARET DECIDES THAT GOD,
GOD LIES.
SHE READS HER BIBLE, GOD LIES,
GOD IS CRUEL, GOD SHOWS NO
MERCY, OR IS INDIFFERENT.
ALL THIS ON
PAGE 256, “GOD TURNS WOMEN INTO
PILLARS OF SALT, OR STONES THEM
AT THE GATE, IN PAYMENT FOR THE
SINS OF MEN.”
OF CHRIST SHE SAYS, PAGE 257,
“'SLAIN, SACRIFICED,' MARGARET
HISSED, 'HE WAS MURDERED BY GOD
FOR HIS SINS.
HE WAS NAILED TO THE CROSS, AND
LEFT FOR THE CROWS TO PICK OUT
HIS EYES.
CROWS ARE FILTHY.’”
CROWS, THE SAME CROWS ARE THE
METAPHORS FOR CROWS IN HER MIND,
THE DARNKESSES IN HER MIND THAT
KEEP WHIRLING AROUND HER MIND.
AND THEN SHE ATTACKS GOD IN THE
ONLY WAY SHE KNOWS HOW.
SHE IS A TORONTO HOUSEWIFE,
WHITE ANGLO-SAXON PROTESTANT,
WHAT CAN SHE DO?
SHE DESTROYS THE CHRISTMAS TREE.
I HER VIEW, A PRIMORDIAL
SYMBOLIC ACT.
BUT APART FROM THAT ONE ACT OF
DESTRUCTION, SHE IS ABLE TO
MAINTAIN HER FACADE OF NORMALCY,
AND THAT IS FRIGHTENING.
AND YET THERE SEEMS TO BE LIGHT
IN THE DARKNESS.
WHEN, IN JULY 1937, THE
TEMPERATURE IN TORONTO RISES
ABOVE 105 DEGREES, THE
POPULATION OF TORONTO IN THEIR
TENS OF THOUSANDS, FLOCK TO THE
GRASSY BEACHES ON BLANKETS AND
THEY SLEEP IN THE OUTDOORS.
THERE IS NO CHOICE, IT IS THAT
OR SUFFOCATION.
SCORES DIE, HUNDREDS DIE.
IRENE INSISTS, AND IRENE IS NOW
THE PARENT, AND MARGARET HAS NO
CHOICE, AND THE SAME SIDE OF
MARGARET FINDS ON THE BEACH,
PAGE 295, “A DELICIOUS SENSATION
OF BELONGING.
A WOMAN, JUST A WOMAN SITTING
WITH HER BACK UP AGAINST A TREE,
WITH OTHER PEOPLE.
IT WASN'T SO COMPLICATED.
'AS LONG AS WE ARE TOGETHER, AS
LONG AS IRENE IS AT MY SIDE, I
WILL BE ALL RIGHT', THOUGHT
MARGARET AS SHE DRIFTED OFF, I
WILL BE ALL RIGHT.”
IT IS A HOPEFUL PASSAGE.
IT INDICATES A CURE IS POSSIBLE,
BUT IT DOES CONTAIN THAT KEY
PHRASE, ALL RIGHT AS LONG AS
IRENE IS AT MY SIDE, AND WE SEE
THAT THE NEUROTIC NEED IS STILL
THERE.
MEANWHILE, IRENE HAS BEEN
DISCOVERING STRENGTH WITHIN
HERSELF.
EVEN AT SCHOOL, BEFORE HER
FATHER DIED, SHE WAS LEARNING TO
FIGHT BACK.
IN HER SEWING CLASS, SHE MAKES A
PAIR OF PYJAMAS FOR HER FATHER,
ONE LEG IS TOO THIN, AND THE
OTHER STUDENTS MOCK HER.
AND SHE DEFLECTS THE LAUGHTER BY
MAKING FUN OF HERSELF AND HER
FATHER.
SHE SAYS, “YES, WHEN I GIVE IT
TO MY FATHER, HE'LL BE SO
LEGLESS DRUNK, HE WON'T NOTICE.”
AND THEN SHE SAYS TO ONE OF HER
CLASSMATES, “SHALL I MAKE
ANOTHER SIMILAR PAIR FOR YOUR
BROTHER BILL?”
A WELL KNOWN COMMUNITY DRUNK
LIKE HER FATHER.
EVEN BEFORE HER FATHER DIES, SHE
HAS BEGUN TO DEFY HER MOTHER.
IT ONLY TAKES--
IT ONLY TAKES THE FORM OF GOING
TO CHURCH WITHOUT HER MOTHER'S
PERMISSION, BUT IT IS A
BEGINNING.
AND NOW, FINALLY, AFTER HER
FATHER DIES, AFTER SHE HAS TAKEN
OVER THE STORE, SHE HAS BEGUN TO
SEE HARRY MADISON, THE COUSIN OF
HER ONE TRUE FRIEND, ABBY
WATKINS, AND HARRY IS A GORGEOUS
CREATION.
HE IS AS LOATHSOME AS ONLY A
YOUNG MAN CAN BE.
[Audience laughter]
I SAY THIS WITH MY 20 YEAR OLD
GRANDSON SITTING AT THE BACK.
[Audience laughter]
MY GRANDSON, IAN, NOW A
PROMISING YOUNG ACTOR AT THE
NATIONAL THEATRE SCHOOL, BUT WE
WILL SEE, WE WILL SEE...
[Audience laughter]
HARRY MADISON, HE IS SMOOTH
TALKING, HE KNOWS POETRY, HE HAS
A MOTORCAR.
HE QUOTES WALT WHITMAN, PAGE
211, “LOAF WITH ME UPON THE
GRASS, LOOSE THE STOP FROM YOUR
THROAT, NOT WORDS, NOT MUSIC OR
RHYME I WANT, NOT CUSTOM OR
LECTURE, NOT EVEN THE BEST.
ONLY THE LULL I LIKE, THE HUM OF
YOUR VELVET VOICE.”
IRENE HAS HAD A VERY SHELTERED
UPBRINGING IN A TINY WORLD WITH
HER MOTHER AND FATHER.
AND SHE FALLS IN LOVE WITH
POETRY.
SHE GOES TO THE LIBRARY, AND SHE
FINDS THE POETRY OF T.S. ELIOT.
A NOT, I THINK, BY THE AUTHOR,
TO THE SOURCE FOR THE TITLE OF
THE BOOK.
SHE LOVES POETRY, AND SHE SAYS
TO HARRY MADISON, “TEACH ME
ABOUT POETRY,” AND SHE STARTS TO
BLUR POETRY AND HARRY MADISON
TOGETHER.
INTOXICATED BY POETRY, AND WITH
HER LITTLE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE
OUTSIDE THE MICROCOSM, THE TINY
FAMILY, SHE BEGINS TO THINK THAT
SHE LOVES POETRY, AND SHE SAYS
TO HARRY MADISON, “TEACH ME
ABOUT POETRY,” AND SHE STARTS TO
BLUR POETRY AND HARRY MADISON
TOGETHER.
INTOXICATED BY POETRY, AND WITH
HER LITTLE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE
OUTSIDE THE MICROCOSM, THE TINY
FAMILY, SHE BEGINS TO THINK THAT
HARRY MADISON MAY BE THE MAN FOR
THAT FIRST SPECIAL TIME, AND SHE
GOES WITH HIM TO A HOTEL.
AND THERE AT THE HOTEL, THANK
GOD, HE IS TOO DRUNK TO PERFORM.
SHE THINKS -- 18, BUT VERY YOUNG
IN MANY WAYS, VERY OLD IN SOME,
VERY YOUNG IN OTHERS, SHE THINKS
IT'S HER FAULT, PAGE 237, “'I'M
SORRY', SHE SAID, BUT COULD NOT
STOP CRYING.
'GOD SAVE ME FROM VIRGINS.'
'DON'T YOU LOVE ME, HARRY?'
'IRENE, WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO
SAY, THAT I LOVE YOU?
WILL THAT MAKE EVERYTHING ALL
RIGHT THEN?'
HE WAS POURING HIMSELF ANOTHER
DRINK.
'OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP
SNIVELLING.’”
SHE DRESSES AND RUNS FROM THE
HOTEL.
IT'S ALWAYS
HARD TO SEE LOVE'S YOUNG DREAM
SHATTERED, AND LAUREN DAVIS
CONVEYS THE HEARTBREAK VERY
WELL.
AND IT IS ABOUT AT THIS POINT
THAT DAVID HIRSCH TURNS UP TO
GIVE THE MacNEILS THE NEWS ABOUT
RORY CAMERON'S DEATH.
INDEED THAT IS
ONE OF THE VITAL ROLLS RORY
CAMERON PLAYS IN THE NOVEL, IN
THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE.
HE IS THE LINK BETWEEN THE STORY
OF DAVID HIRSCH FROM
SASKATCHEWAN, AND THE STORY OF
IRENE MacNEIL FROM TORONTO.
AND DAVID'S ARRIVAL IS A
WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY FOR IRENE.
SHE HAS FIXED UP THE TOILET, THE
KITCHEN AND THE BEDROOM ABOVE
HER STORE, SHE FOUND A TENANT,
BUT THE TENANT HAS SKIPPED
WITHOUT PAYING RENT.
SHE NEEDS HELP IN THE STORE,
IT'S PERFECT, PERFECT.
DAVID, NOW IN HIS 20s, IS A VERY
PERSONABLE YOUNG MAN.
HE DOES WELL IN THE STORE, AND
FOR HIM, THE LITTLE APARTMENT
ABOVE THE STORE IS WONDERFUL.
IT'S THE FIRST TIME SINCE HE WAS
14, AS A MATTER OF FACT, IT'S
THE FIRST TIME IN HIS WHOLE LIFE
HE HAD A TOILET TO HIMSELF.
AND AS DAVID WORKS OUT WELL IN
THE STORE, AS THE FRIENDSHIP
BETWEEN IRENE AND DAVID DEEPENS,
DAVID, TO MARGARET, BECOMES THE
ENEMY.
PAGE 315, “WHEN HARRY
DISAPPEARED, IT HAD BEEN SUCH A
VICTORY.
MARGARET HAD FELT SURE THAT
IRENE WOULD BE BOUND TO HER
FOREVER, DEFEATED BY THE LOSS OF
LOVE, AND THEN THAT DAVID HIRSCH
ARRIVED AND CONTAMINATED
EVERYTHING.”
NOW MARGARET IS NOT AN ANTI-
SEMITE.
AT THOSE EARLIER BREAKFAST
DISCUSSIONS, IT WAS SHE HOW
ATTACKED DOUGLAS MacNEIL'S
ANTISEMITISM.
BUT DAVID'S JEWISHNESS, BECOMES
A WEAPON THAT MARGARET CAN USE.
NOW IT IS MARGARET WHO USES THE
ARGUMENTS WITH IRENE.
IT IS MARGARET WHO USES THE
ECONOMIC ARGUMENT, PAGE 283,
TALKING TO HER DAUGHTER.
“NONE OF THE GOOD STORES WILL
HIRE JEWS, YOU KNOW, THERE'S A
REASON FOR THAT.
PEOPLE DON'T LIKE BEING SERVED
BY JEWS.
OH, NOT ME MIND YOU, SO DON'T
LOOK AT ME THAT WAY, BUT OTHER
PEOPLE.”
AND THEN SHE TRIES THE SOCIAL
ARGUMENT, PAGE 289, “I CAN'T
IMAGINE WHAT ANY NICE BOY WOULD
THINK OF YOU IF HE KNEW YOU WERE
OUT GALLIVANTING WITH A JEW.”
BUT NONE OF IT WORKS, AND MAD
MARGARET TAKES OVER COMPLETELY
MARGARET'S MIND, “SHE KNEW HE
HAD CAST SOME DARK JEWISH SPELL
ON IRENE, SOME MALEVOLENT
CHARM.”
SHE ASKS IRENE, “HOW DO YOU KNOW
IT WASN'T DAVID HIRSCH WHO
KILLED YOUR UNCLE RORY?”
SHE TELLS IRENE, “RATHER THAN BE
WITH A JEW, YOU'D BE BETTER OFF
DEAD.”
AND IT IS THEN THAT IRENE MAKES
HER DECISION.
SHE MUSES ON WHAT HER MOTHER HAS
SAID, PAGE 329, “SHE SAID I'D BE
BETTER OFF DEAD,” AND THEN,
THINKING OF HER MOTHER, “WHERE
DO YOU END AND I BEGIN?”
“WHERE DO YOU END AND I BEGIN?”
AND SHE DECIDES, IRENE, TO CUT
THE CORD THAT BINDS THEM.
SHE WILL MOVE OUT OF HER
MOTHER'S HOUSE.
SHE WILL MOVE TO A ROOM ON
CARLETON AVENUE, NOT IN WITH
DAVID HIRSCH.
SHE HAS LEARNED FROM HARRY THAT
MOTHER'S HOUSE.
SHE WILL MOVE TO A ROOM ON
CARLETON AVENUE, NOT IN WITH
DAVID HIRSCH.
SHE HAS LEARNED FROM HARRY THAT
THINGS DO NOT MOVE THAT QUICKLY.
BUT SHE WILL LEAVE HER MOTHER'S
HOME.
AND MARGARET'S LAST WORDS AS HER
CHILD WALKS OUT OF THE HOUSE,
ARE PURE OBSCENE BLACKMAIL.
PURE, EXQUISITE, TYRANNY OF THE
WEAK.
HER MENTAL HEALTH IS NOT ONLY
HER BURDEN, IT IS HER WEAPON,
AND SHE USES IT.
WHAT DOES SHE SCREAM AFTER HER
DEPARTING CHILD?
PAGE 331, “IN MY DAY, CHILDREN
DIDN'T FUCK JEWS, THEY DIDN'T
ABANDON THEIR PARENTS, DIDN'T
LEAVE THEM TO DIE ALONE.
I'LL GO MAD, IRENE, I WILL, AND
IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT.
I CAN FEEL IT COMING.
YOU CAN'T JUST LEAVE ME LIKE
THAT, I CAN'T COPE BY MYSELF.
I'M NOT STRONG LIKE YOU ARE,
IRENE.”
AND IRENE IS CALM IN THE FACE OF
THAT, BUT SHE SHOWS THE HARD
SHINE OF STEEL THAT DAVID HIRSCH
KNEW WAS JUST BENEATH THE
SURFACE, WE HAD GLIMPSED THAT
STEEL BEFORE WHEN DAVID WARNED
HER ABOUT TAKING HIM ON AT THE
STORE, PAGE 277, DAVID SPEAKING,
“'NOT MANY JEWS THIS SIDE OF
SPADINA.'
'IT'S NO PROBLEM.'
'NOT FOR YOU, MAYBE, BUT WHAT
ABOUT YOU CUSTOMERS?'
SHE SHRUGGED, 'NOT ANY CUSTOMERS
I CARE ABOUT KEEPING'.
AND SHE IS JUST AS FIRM WITH HER
MOTHER WHEN SHE LEAVES.
SHE, IRENE, REALLY HAS BECOME
THE PARENT.
PAGE 331, “I'M NOT LEAVING YOU,
MUM, I'M JUST LEAVING, THERE'S A
DIFFERENCE.
I'LL SEE YOU, I'LL PAY FOR
EVERYTHING.
YOU WILL HAVE TO GO OUTSIDE NOW,
BUT YOU WILL BE FINE, I
PROMISE.”
AND AS IRENE ASSUMES THE
PARENTAL ROLE COMPLETELY,
MARGARET, THE MOTHER BECOMES THE
CHILD.
AFTER A TANTRUM OF SCREAMING
AFTER HER DEPARTED DAUGHTER,
MARGARET GIVES HERSELF TOTALLY
OVER TO THE CHILDISH ROLE.
SHE GIVES HERSELF OVER TOTALLY
TO MAGICAL THINKING.
THAT'S WHAT CHILDREN DO, WE ALL
DID IT.
THINK BACK.
WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG, IF I CAN
REACH THAT CORNER BEFORE I COUNT
10, SOMETHING GOOD WILL HAPPEN.
IF I SEE A CAT BEFORE I SEE A
DOG, SOMETHING GOOD WILL HAPPEN.
IT HAPPENS OR IT DOESN'T HAPPEN,
IT DOESN'T MATTER, IT'S NOT
IMPORTANT.
IT'S A CHILD'S WORLD OF MAGICAL
THINKING.
IN MARGARET'S CASE, IT IS TO SIT
ON A CERTAIN CHAIR IN HER HOUSE
AND WAIT.
ON PAGE 332, “IF SHE STAYED HERE
AND DID NOT MOVE FROM THIS
CHAIR, IRENE WOULD COME BACK.
MARGARET GRIPPED THE SEAT WITH
BOTH HANDS.
SHE SITS FOR HOURS, WELL, WELL,
WELL INTO THE DARKNESS OF THE
NIGHT.
AND STILL SHE DID NOT MOVE.
SHE GRITTED HER TEETH SO HARD
THAT PAIN SHOT UP INTO HER
TEMPLES.
HER BACK ACHED AND BURNED WITH
HOLDING STILL, BUT STILL SHE DID
NOT MOVE.
SHE CONCENTRATED ON THE TICKING
OF THE CLOCK.
SHE WAS FRIGHTENED IN THE DARK,
THE DARK THAT WOULD NOT BUDGE.
SHE BEGAN TO CRY,” HER
CONCENTRATION IS SO INTENSE THAT
HER MIND TAKES HER UP, UP, UP
INTO WHAT ABORIGINALS CALL THE
DREAM TIME.
WHAT OTHERS
MIGHT CALL THE INNERMOST
RECESSES OF SELF.
THE OTHER MARGARET, THE EVIL
SIDE OF HER, MAKES HER PRESENCE
KNOWN, AND MARGARET FEELS
HERSELF ON THE LIP OF A CHASM,
AND THEN SUDDENLY SHE CRIES OUT,
“OH GOD!”
AND SHE FALLS
FROM HER CHAIR, AND THEN, I
QUOTE, PAGE 334, “WHEN SHE WOKE,
IT WAS DAYLIGHT, AND SHE KNEW
THAT IRENE WOULD NOT BE BACK.
SHE HAD FALLEN FROM HER CHAIR,
FAILED TO KEEP UP HER END OF THE
BARGAIN, AND HAD LOST.”
AND HER REACTION, “IT'S NOT SO
BAD, I THINK WE'LL SLEEP FOR
NOW.”
IRENE COMES BACK DAYS LATER TO
PEER THROUGH THE WINDOW AND
CHECK ON HER MOTHER, AS SHE HAS
HAD DAVID DO FOR THE PREVIOUS
DAYS.
AND WHEN IRENE PEERS THROUGH THE
WINDOW, SHE SEES HER MOTHER
SITTING IN THE KITCHEN WITH A
CUP OF TEA OR COFFEE, DOING THE
CROSSWORD IN THE NEWSPAPER,
CHUCKLING AT BURNS AND ALLAN ON
THE RADIO.
ALL IS WELL.
ON THAT LAST PAGE OF THE NOVEL,
MARGARET SEEMS WELL, BUT HOW DID
SHE COME TO BE WELL?
NOW LAUREN DAVIS AND I DO NOT
AGREE COMPLETELY.
[Laughter]

[Audience laughter]

Robert continues IN OUR DISCUSSIONS OF THE END OF
THE NOVEL, AS I WAS TRYING TO
EXPLAIN HER NOVEL TO HER...
[Audience laughter]
WE AGREED ON CERTAIN THINGS.
CERTAINLY MARGARET'S FALL FROM
THE CHAIR IS CLIMACTIC.
WE AGREE ON THAT.
BUT LAUREN DAVIS POINTS OUT THAT
WHEN MARGARET FALLS, SHE CRIES
OUT, “OH GOD!”
LAUREN DAVIS SEES THAT AS
MARGARET'S ACCEPTANCE OF THE GOD
WITH WHOM SHE HAS BEEN AT WAR.
AND NOW MARGARET HAS ACCEPTED
GOD, THE HEALING CAN ENTER, THE
HEALING CAN BEGIN.
SHE MAY BE RIGHT, BUT--
[Audience laughter]
MY OWN VIEW IS MORE PROSAIC.
MARGARET'S NEUROSIS, WHATEVER IT
MAY HAVE BEEN EXACTLY, HAS BEEN
FED BY IRENE.
IN THE MODERN JARGON, IRENE HAS
BEEN THE ENABLER.
HER PRESENCE HAS MADE IT
POSSIBLE FOR MARGARET TO
MAINTAIN AN UNBALANCED
HOUSEBOUND EXISTENCE.
AFTER IRENE LEAVES, MARGARET IS
COMPELLED TO GO INTO HER INNER
SELF, AND THERE SHE FINDS
RESOURCES TO SUSTAIN HER.
WITH NO ONE TO BLACKMAIL, WITH
NO ONE TO EXERCISE HER TYRANNY
OVER, THERE IS NOTHING NOW TO
PREVENT HER FROM ASSUMING A
SOMETHING RESEMBLING A NORMAL
LIFE.
AND THE POINT SEEMS TO ME TO BE
REINFORCED BY THE LAST WORDS OF
THE NOVEL.
IRENE, AS SHE WALKS AWAY FROM
THE WINDOW OF HER MOTHER'S
HOUSE, SHE PLAYS THAT CHILDISH
GAME, WE ALL PLAYED IT,
“IRENE...
ADJUSTS HER STEP TO THE RHYTHM
OF THE SIDEWALK, STEP ON A
CRACK, BREAK YOUR MOTHER'S BACK,
STEP ON A LINE, BREAK YOUR
MOTHER'S SPINE.”
WE ALL DID THAT, SURELY, BUT WE
KNEW THAT WHEN WE DID IT, IT
DIDN'T REALLY MATTER IF WE
STEPPED ON A CRACK.
IT WOULDN'T REALLY BREAK OUR
MOTHER'S BACK.
SYMBOLICALLY ON THE LAST LINES
OF THE NOVEL, IRENE IS NOW THE
CHILD PLAYING A GAME.
THE CHILD SHE SHOULD HAVE BEEN
FOR THE LAST 8 YEARS OR SO,
INSTEAD OF THE ROLE FORCED UPON
HER, HALF ADULT, HALF VICTIM.
THE TENSION, THE MOTHER CREATED
TENSION THAT EXISTED BETWEEN THE
MOTHER AND THE DAUGHTER HAS NOW
BEEN REDUCED TO THE NONSENSE
LYRICS OF A CHILD'S JINGLE.
IT ISN'T IMPORTANT, SHE CAN'T
HURT HER MOTHER.
IT DOESN'T MATTER.
EVERYTHING IS NOW AS IT SHOULD
BE.
SHE WILL GO ON, AS SHE SAID, TO
FINISH HIGH SCHOOL, STUDY
PHARMACOLOGY AT UNIVERSITY,
WHILE DAVID LOOKS AFTER THE
STORE.
I AM SURE THAT SHE AND DAVID
WILL MAKE A LIFE TOGETHER.
THEY HAVE BOTH COME THROUGH THE
STUBBORN SEASON OF DEPRESSION.
THEY ARE THE NEW CANADA, THE TWO
CULTURES.
IT HAS BEEN A WONDERFUL NOVEL,
TO MESH TOGETHER SO PERFECTLY,
SO SEAMLESSLY, THE GREAT ISSUES
OF THE TIME, THE MACROCOSM AND
THE TRIBULATIONS OF ONE LITTLE
FAMILY, THE MICROCOSM, AND ALL
IN PROSE SO PERFECT, IT
SOMETIMES ASCENDS TO POETRY.
I KNOW THAT
LAUREN DAVIS HAS HER SECOND
NOVEL COMING OUT IN FEBRUARY OF
NEXT YEAR.
PUBLISHED BY HARPER COLLINS, IT
IS CALLED, “THE RADIANT CITY.”
I UNDERSTAND THAT AGAIN SHE IS
USING THE MICROCOSM-- THE
MICROCOSM, MACROCOSM STRUCTURE.
THE NOVEL IS
ABOUT JOURNALISTS IN PARIS WHO
HAVE LIVED THROUGH THE TRAUMAS
OF KOSOVO, BOSNIA, RWANDA, AND
HAVE BEEN DAMAGED, AND AT THE
SAME TIME IT IS ABOUT ONE
LEBANESE IMMIGRANT MOTHER WHO IS
TRYING TO KEEP HER BOY, HER SON,
OUT OF THE STREET GANGS.
PARIS, THE CITY, THE RADIANT
CITY, BECOMES A METAPHOR FOR
REDEMPTION.
PARIS, THE CITY, THE RADIANT
CITY, BECOMES A METAPHOR FOR
REDEMPTION.
AND IF THAT SECOND NOVEL, THE
NEXT NOVEL IS AS PERFECT AS THIS
NOVEL, SHE WILL HAVE ANOTHER
BEST SELLER ON HER HANDS AND I
CANNOT WAIT TO READ IT, AND I
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[Long applause]

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Watch: Robert Adams on Lauren B. Davis' novel The Stubborn Season