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Authors: Mordecai Richler

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And so on. Others in
antic cast with obvious roots in reality – Jimmy McFarlane, of “McFarlane and Renfrew,” Rabbi Glenn Seigal (surely Abraham Feinberg of Holy Blossom Temple), Sunny Jim Woodcock (Nathan Phillips was “Mayor of All the People”) – play minor roles. They’re included, I think, only because it amuses Mordecai to see them, as it amused him once to insert into a movie script a thug called “Zosky.” (“What you dare to dream, dare to do,” by the way, is straight out of a booklet published by Ben Weider, the Montrealer who has made himself rich and famous as a body-builder, and the subject of another Richler magazine article.) The big parts – Bette Dolan, Rory Peel, Twentyman himself (though there are touches of John Bassett there, and maybe Jack Kent Cooke) – are all either composites, fabrications, or, like Bone and McEwen, skewed away from recognizability. The characteristics that skew them,
moreover, are satirically pointless – funny, of course, but harmless.

However tough the book is on Toronto of the time, in other words, and on the excesses of cultural nationalism, the personal attacks are missing; no one’s hurt.

Which is, when you think of it, not surprising. Among many other qualities that might confound people who know him only by reputation, Mordecai Richler is a very nice man, a gentleman, as my grandmother would have said, old-fashioned. In person, he cares more than anyone else I know about marriage, the family, loyalty to his friends. In his non-fiction, to be sure, he is capable of writing down every stupid thing people say to him and reporting it with a scathing lack of guile. But in his fiction, like a boxer who realizes his fists are lethal weapons, he holds back, attacks the idea, not the holder. He is, dare I say it, a Canadian.

Thirty-two, eh? So much is already there. The exquisite ear, the eye for the vainglorious, the staccato rhythms, the sentences boiled down to Jesus-wept economy, and, even in this slim volume, the Dickensian richness of the
dramatis personae
. Some of the jokes in
reach too desperately, of course, (a reindeer knuckle? smoked caribou at “Benny’s?”), and some of the language (“Negroes,” “ofays”) rings dated, or smacks of dangerous stereotype. But even then, you can tell, Richler had found his voice.

Anti-Canadian? No, anti
. In his determination that we honour that which is excellent rather than simply that which is Canadian, Richler could be seen, in fact, as the most pro-Canadian of writers. “The truth is,” he wrote once, “if we were indeed hemmed in by the boring, the inane, and the absurd, we foolishly blamed it all on Canada, failing to grasp that we would suffer from a surfeit of the boring, the inane, and the absurd wherever we eventually settled.”

In Canada, in 1963, he put our world through the lens of his comic imagination, saw some things the rest of us didn’t see, amused himself, and warned us all where we were heading.

I still wonder if we heard him.


Hunting Tigers Under Glass: Essays and Reports
Shovelling Trouble
Notes on an Endangered Species and Others
The Great Comic Book Heroes and Other Essays
Home Sweet Home: My Canadian Album
Broadsides: Reviews and Opinions
Belling the Cat: Essays, Reports, and Opinions

The Acrobats
Son of a Smaller Hero
A Choice of Enemies
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
The Incomparable Atuk
The Street
St Urbain’s Horseman
Joshua Then and Now
Solomon Gursky Was Here
Barney’s Version

Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang
Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur
Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case

Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!:
Requiem for a Divided Country
This Year in Jerusalem
On Snooker

Images of Spain

BOOK: The Incomparable Atuk
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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