Friday, 23 June 2017


Jan’s career as concert pianist is ruined by auditory hallucinations, a needling high-pitched ringing, a cascade of notes, raining down like hammers from the ceiling of the concert hall. Are they a flood of memories, of words left unspoken between him and his charismatic childhood friend Dirk. 

He was like a new word that, once learned, you heard spoken everywhere. Compelling attention. Mine, yours, anyone’s. Dirk is a consummate actor, but when they two friends are alone, he reverts to his self. The hunch returned. The loping strides. The fiddling with his ear. The sly smile.

This is a novel about music and about a friendship that could be love.

The music: Notes balanced on the thinnest, most fragile wire, ascend and descend. Underneath it all a regular pulse of octaves in the bass clef gives the piece a steady and abiding feeling of hope. And then there is Rachmaninoff: A tumbling that builds up to an explosion of chords, broken and solid, shooting up and sliding down octaves. The tempo increases until runs of notes crash in waves running crosswise. Dirk would like the Rachmaninoff.

The friendship: You and Dirk. I might’ve guessed you two would fall out of touch completely, but it could’ve been the opposite. Pirm smiled and shook his head slowly. You know, Jan, we all thought you two were… He grinned.  Us two what? I said.

There was only one way for Jan to find an answer to that question. To look up his old friend.

A thunderclap runs from ear to ear, like weather starting up again. My arms start to shake. I don’t have much time. I begin to blurt out the words. What I’d meant to say from the moment I stepped in the front door.

Friday, 26 May 2017


Angela Palm’s memoir reads like a novel. You keep waiting for a plot to develop, for something to happen to the heroine that will create the familiar story arc, but all that’s happening are thoughts and observations in beautiful language.

Angela  consults a map and finds that she lives in between two red dots indicating towns, like some half-breed spawn of both worlds and alien to both.
Neither town wants her. She is stunned by this new perspective. Everything I saw was familiar – driveways and houses I’d seen before. These were signs of home, but I felt spat out like bad milk.
Because her house is so far from town, solitary pursuits replaced social ones, and a cacophony of ideas swirled in me.
There was, from a young age, already a disconnect between the way I processed experiences and the way others conducted themselves, the way I was critical of my surroundings and the way others seemed to float through them without taking note of anything.

Teenage years
We knew the land as we knew our teenaged bodies. Ripe, firm. Yielding in places. In those days, running was nothing but an extension of self. Like breathing. There was no labor in it, only direction and the feeling of blood rushing in our veins.
She falls in love – if love was a pull, magnetic and inevitable as gravity. If it was a secret, best kept slow and steady and unspoken.

Returning home after twenty years

I wondered which part is most real – the conscious or the unconscious. Whether the place itself is the thing that stays, or its effects on a person. One is concrete and one is embedded in the brain, in memory.


Monday, 22 May 2017


What does Marx and Bram Stoker have in common? According to Globe &Mail book reviewer John Semlet, they were both commenting on capitalism: Dracula allegorized a cautious ambivalence toward the emerging capitalist order. Come on, let’s not ruin a perfect gothic horror story by giving it redeeming value. I want to enjoy my shlock without the guilty feeling that I’m reading a social commentary.
What next? Zombies as allegories of Facebook’s addictive power? Superman as allegory of the airline business? Lego as allegory of failing infrastructure? Is nothing sacred?

No, next thing they’ll tell me the Bible is an allegory for sloppy fact-checking.

Thursday, 4 May 2017


Next month U of T Press will publish my translation of their correspondence under the title A Nobel Affair (no, I don’t like the pun, but they twisted my arm).

From the blurb: Alfred Nobel made his name as an inventor and successful entrepreneur and left a legacy as a philanthropist and promoter of learning social progress. The correspondence between Nobel and his mistress, Sofie Hess, shines a light on his private life and reveals a personality that differs significantly from his public image. The letters show him as a hypochondriac and workaholic and as a paranoid, jealous, and patriarchal lover

Saturday, 29 April 2017


I hope all you pastors out there realize that you need retraining to meet the needs of your congregation.  Sure, a degree in theology comes in handy, and a couple of courses in psychology are helpful, but a recent church bulletin made on thing clear to me: what you really need is a degree in business administration. Here are excerpts from St. Basil’s  annual report which will provide you with some handy jargon:

It is hard to believe how much we have accomplished…though it did not occur exactly how we planned. We saw a 10% drop in attendance, but never mind attendance, the collection went up by 1.2% and the overall operations revenue increased by 27%. And that’s what counts, right?

Let us give thanks to God for the resources we have stewarded. You see, dear brothers and sisters, that’s where it’s at: We stewarded our resources and look what we got: new washrooms, air conditions, new furniture, technology, all at code compliance.

Why do we need  new furniture and washrooms, you ask. To live the hospitality to our neighbours, of course. You don’t understand that phrase, live the hospitality? I personally think it’s a neat new coinage and not as crass as “throwing a party”.

Oh, by the way, we also deal in faith. And that’s part of a much larger strategy of investment. The goal of our work is to create new and more stable revenue sources.  So we have decided to charge you for your faith. New revenue sources include fees for sacramental preparation programs and vigil candles and soliciting significant donations targeted for specific ministries.

Now there is a pastor who knows what’s what. I wish I could steward my resources like that.