Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Archive for the tag “Drug use”

Montreal Cool, Toronto Uncool (Yawn)

taolincover

Tao Lin, Taipei (2013)

Taipei, by Tao Lin, is very difficult to get through. Every time I picked it up and started to read, my mind immediately began drifiting to all the more enjoyable things I could be doing with my time, like mowing the lawn, or cutting my fingernails, or having some teeth pulled. The book follows a young novelist, Paul, as he kills time before his book tour, goes on his book tour, loses one girlfriend, marries his new girlfriend, and “ingests” (a favourite word) significant amounts of drugs. (The title presumably refers to the visits he pays to his parents in Taipei, though I suspect it was really chosen for the cover design possibilities it offered when juxtaposed with Lin’s name – see above.)

I assume the novel is autobiographical, not because I know anything specific about Tao Lin’s life and can trace parallels to it in his work, but just because the book seems to have been written by someone who wanted to expend as little effort as possible on writing it, and I can’t imagine he would have bothered to invent anything. Lin’s goal seems to be to write about uninteresting people and events in the most uninteresting way possible, and in that he succeeds admirably. Taipei takes dullness to a level that, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have thought possible if I hadn’t read it myself. And maybe, in his refusal to impart the slightest bit of interest to his writing, Lin is a harbinger of a coming literary revolution: “The New Affectlessness,” perhaps?

The novel has been both praised and attacked, which I won’t really get into, but I do recommend reading Lin’s own whinging defence against one of his critics (quoted here – scroll down just past the screen caps of the two tweets), in which he essentially argues that people shouldn’t be allowed to criticize his writing because if critics or reviewers convince readers that he’s a bad writer, it might interfere with his ability to support himself and his aging parents with the money he makes from writing.

It’s interesting that he doesn’t even bother to defend his work on artistic or aesthetic grounds, but instead makes this strangely practical, almost careerist argument – all in a very hurt, passive-aggressive tone, as if trying to shame anyone who criticizes him into guilt-induced silence. His whole line of thinking seems to spring from the idea that it is his natural right to support himself as a writer, and that no one should be allowed to criticize him because it might deprive him of the money he expects to earn. Personally, I would make the opposite argument: if you can’t produce a genuinely good book, then you don’t deserve to be able to support yourself, or anyone else, with your writing; you should find another profession.

Of course, there are always too-clever-by-half types who are eager to spin out theories (or, as Lin would call them, “framework-y somethings”) to demonstrate that the badness of a book like Taipei is actually what makes it great: it “perfectly captures the anomie of directionless 20-somethings,” or it “questions everything we think we know about how novels can be good,” or it “[insert your own gasbag theory here]”.

But doing so falsifies the experience of actually reading the book. When you’re not reading Taipei, it’s possible to think of it as some sort of conceptual experiment, and to convince yourself that Lin is deliberately challenging and overthrowing your expectations. In fact, spinning out such theories is more enjoyable and rewarding than actually reading Taipei. But pick it up and read a few more pages, and all theorizing evaporates as you are once again submerged in the weirdly punitive ennui the book engenders, as if you were falling in slow motion down an endless flight of stairs in a monotonously ugly building.

But on to Canada.

An Accidental Mishearing

The first reference to Canada comes during a long, early section of Taipei in which Paul wanders around New York, takes drugs, and goes to parties and bars with various acquaintances. He seems to be trying to find a new girlfriend, though he goes about it in an odd (and ultimately unsuccessful) way. This conversation involves Laura, one of Paul’s “prospects” who doesn’t pan out:

Laura said something seemingly unrelated about cooking.
“You should cook for me,” said Paul distractedly.
“You won’t like it – it’ll be dense and unhealthy.”
“I like pasta and lasagna,” said Paul, and thought he heard Laura ask if his computer was in Canada and was nervous she might be confusing him for another person. “What computer?”
“You said your computer was getting fixed in Canada.”
“Oh,” said Paul. “Kansas, not Canada. Yeah, it’s still there.”  (46-7)

So much for Canada as a high-tech centre for computer repairs. I don’t know that we can conclude much from this passage; “Kansas” and “Canada” do have (phonetically) identical first syllables, and it’s thoughtful of Tao Lin to remind us of that.

Toronto vs. Montreal

When Paul’s book tour reaches Canada, Taipei revives the Toronto vs. Montreal debate that we’ve come across before, though in a somewhat lazy and conventional fashion. Paul visits Montreal first:

In Montreal, three days later, beneath a uniformly cloudy expanse, which glowed with the same intensity and asbestos-y texture everywhere, seeming less like a sky than the cloud-colored surface of a cold, hollowed-out sun, close enough to obstruct its own curvature, Paul walked slowly and aimlessly, sometimes standing in place, like an arctic explorer, noticing almost no other people and that something, on a general level, seemed familiar….
The sky had darkened and was now almost cloudless, like it had been gently suctioned from an interplanetary pressure system. As a red truck, clean and bright as a toy, passed on the street, Paul realized Montreal, with its narrower streets and cute beverage sizes and smaller vehicles, reminded him of Berlin.  (118-19)

At least you can tell he’s trying. The first passage is typical of what happens when Lin revs himself up for some “serious writing”: words quickly get the better of him, and the clauses pile up like cars in a dense fog, apparently ungoverned by even the most rudimentary grasp of the rules of syntax, until the rush of words collapses, exhausted, in an apparently random full stop. Lin writes like someone who decided to become a writer without bothering to go through the intermediary stage of learning the skills that are required to be a decent writer – such as the ability to use words to express thoughts and emotions in a clear and memorable way. (Our current cultural moment, where blog engines (like this one) make it easy for anyone to simply “be a writer,” facilitate this sort of democratization of literature – or is it the destruction of literature? Or are those just two different terms for the same process?)

On the positive side, we can see several conventional ideas about Montreal being worked through here.

First, it’s interesting to note how that reference to an “arctic explorer” sneaks in – why specifically an arctic explorer? Couldn’t a jungle explorer, or a desert explorer, also stand in place and not notice any other people? But of course Lin is an American visiting Canada, which means he has a preconceived notion that Canada is cold, and so his mind goes automatically to an arctic explorer. (Canada is north of the U.S., so Montreal must practically be in the Arctic – right?) The statement that there are “almost no other people” gives the impression that Montreal – one of Canada’s largest cities – is actually a frozen, depopulated wasteland.

In the next paragraph Montreal appears as a quaint miniature imitation of a real city, with a “toy” truck, smaller vehicles, and “cute” beverage sizes – all in contrast to the U.S., where cars and portion sizes are big – as is everything else. The use of the word “clean” touches on another idea about Canada that we’ve noted before, and then we wrap up with the comparison to Berlin, settling on the common idea that Montreal feels like a European city – “European” being a marker of coolness, hipness, and other qualities that cities aspire to.

Then the tour moves on to Toronto:

Paul arrived in Toronto the next night on a Megabus, then rode two city buses to the apartment of a Type Books employee and his girlfriend and slept on a sofa…. He walked to a cafe near Type Books and asked on one of the two threads on 4chan about him that, for some reason, had appeared in the last two days – and, with two to four hundred posts each, 90 to 95 percent derogatory, were the two longest threads on him that he’d ever seen – if anyone in Toronto could sell him MDMA or mushrooms within two hours. Someone named Rodrigo, who’d recently moved here from San Francisco, Paul discerned via Facebook, emailed that he could get mushrooms and maybe MDMA but not until after Paul’s reading.  (124)

This portrayal of Toronto as the kind of place where you can’t get drugs when you need them plays into a typical image of the city as dull and puritanical – usually, as here, in comparison to our more free-wheeling, fun-loving compatriots in the carefree, European-style city of Montreal. A similar impression comes across, for example, in Keith Richards’ account of his adventures in Toronto, where the police just aren’t up on how world-famous rock stars live. There seems to be a general view of Toronto as a large city with a very provincial outlook.

After the reading, Paul goes back to Rodrigo’s apartment with Alethia, a young writer who is going to interview him while he’s on MDMA:

In Rodrigo’s apartment, a few hours later, Paul searched his name in Alethia’s email account – signed in on Rodrigo’s tiny, malformed-looking, non-Macbook laptop – while she was in the bathroom and saw she had pitched an article on him, two months ago, to the Toronto Sun, which had not responded, it seemed. Paul and Rodrigo each swallowed a capsule of MDMA.  (125)

Again, we have the impression of Toronto as a place that isn’t quite as cool as it might be – people actually find ways to manage with non-Macbook computers! The reference to the Toronto Sun is particularly amusing, as it indicates that either Alethia or Lin himself knows nothing about newspapers in Toronto; the Sun is essentially a tabloid which features right-wing demagoguery masquerading as news, endless sports reporting, and pictures of scantily clad women (check out today’s edition). It’s not a newspaper that would ever feature a story on any sort of writer, much less a self-conscious hipster like Tao Lin. Perhaps this is based on a real event and, in writing it down, Lin has simply confused the Toronto Sun with the Toronto Star, a paper that might at least consider a story on Lin.

But this story of the duelling Toronto-Montreal readings has (unusually for Lin) a moral element, in which Toronto is ultimately punished for being a narrow-minded city that doesn’t offer visiting authors the free access to drugs they require. Back in New York, Paul goes online to read some reviews of his two readings:

On Halloween afternoon, in the library, Paul read an account of his Montreal reading, when he was on two capsules of MDMA, describing him as “charismatic, articulate and friendly.”
He read an account of his Toronto reading, when he’d been sober, describing him as “monosyllabic,” “awkward,” “stilted and unfriendly” within a disapproval of his oeuvre, itself vaguely within a disapproval of contemporary culture and, by way of a link to someone else’s essay, the internet.  (128-9)

So Montreal gets bathed in the warmth of Paul’s drug-induced charms while Toronto has to suffer through the monosyllabic, stilted version of the author that emerges when he is sober.

The Nuggets of “the Saskatchewan”

The final reference to Canada occurs while Paul and Erin, having got married on a whim in Vegas, go to Taipei to visit Paul’s parents. To pass the time they take various drugs and then film themselves wandering around Taipei doing whatever occurs to them. At this point they are filming a fake documentary about a McDonald’s restuarant in Taipei, in which they claim that the chicken nuggets are actually made out of children:

“Yeah,” said Erin. “And actually for some … if you pay extra you can get a little bit of a tooth, from an actual child, and you can also get it memorialized, in a locket.”
“If a country pays extra, their nuggets get more gelatin?”
“Yes,” said Erin. “The quality is just slightly raised.”
“I heard that Canada did that,” said Paul.
“Um, just the Saskatchewan. They’re the prime testing markets. Because they eat … they primarily eat teeth there. That’s their diet, I didn’t know if you knew that.”
“The Weakerthans wrote an album about that, right?”
“Yeah, they-” said Erin.
Fallow?” said Paul.
Fallow,” said Erin confidently.
“That was about the teeth-” said Paul.
“The Saskatchewan teeth crisis,” said Erin.  (196)

There’s no real information about Canada contained here, of course, but it does reveal a certain American attitude to Canada in that Paul is just looking for a place to attribute something outrageous to, and he settles on Canada – which Erin immediately modifies to “the Saskatchewan,” as if it were a region, like “the Midwest,” and not the province “Saskatchewan” – which is a place Americans have heard of but know so little about that they will believe almost anything they’re told about it. The added specificity of Saskatchewan is probably just because it’s the strangest Canadian place name they can think of on the spur of the moment.

The Weakerthans are a Canadian band, though actually from Manitoba, not Saskatchewan – but I’m sick of the “garbage-y nothingness” (to coin a Lin-ism) that is Taipei, and I don’t want to think or write about it any more.

No confidence

RichardsCover

Keith Richards, Life (2010)

There are several references to Canada throughout this book – not surprising from a member of a band that regularly tours the world, and has also made a habit of rehearsing in Toronto (for tax reasons, apparently).

Rather than cataloguing all those, I’m going to focus on the most interesting reference to Canada: the section that deals with Richards’ arrest for drug trafficking in Toronto in 1977.

The band was waiting for me in Toronto early in 1977. I put off going for many days. They sent me telegrams: “Where are you?” We had a gig at the El Mocambo, which would provide more tracks for our Love You Live album. We needed some days of rehearsal.  (391)

That reference to the El Mocambo will have an undeniable frisson for Torontonians of a certain age.

But finally we [Richards and Anita Pallenberg] flew there [Toronto] on February 24. The gigs – two nights at the club – were scheduled for ten days later. I took a hit on the airplane and somehow the spoon ended up in Anita’s pocket. They found nothing on me at the airport, but they found the spoon on Anita and busted her.  (391)

It has nothing to do with Canada, but I love that “somehow”; how did the spoon end up in poor Anita’s pocket?

They [the Canadian police] went to great effort to prepare the big bust of me in the Harbour Castle Hotel…. Alan Dunn, the longest-serving Stones man, the logistics and transport supremo, discovered later that the regular personnel who worked in the hotel suddenly found themselves working alongside many extra people, who had been hired mostly as telephone and television engineers. The police were setting it up: massive resources against one guitar player.  (391)

There’s something amusing about this picture of the Canadian police – they’re portrayed like small-town cops trembling with excitement at their chance to catch a big-time, big-city celebrity. It’s hard to know how much of this is true and how much is just Richards’ grandiosity.

So the police came straight to the room. Marlon [Richards’ son] would not normally have let in any policemen, but they were dressed as waiters. They couldn’t wake me up. By law you have to be conscious to be arrested. (391)

Well there’s an interesting little nugget of information – did you know you had to be conscious to be arrested? I didn’t. It makes sense when you think about it, since they have to advise you of your rights, and if you’re not conscious you obviously can’t take in that information; I suppose the truth is I’d never really thought about it. The wages of a relatively sheltered life.

It took them forty-five minutes – I’d been up for five days and I’d had a heavy-duty shot and I was out. This was my last rehearsal day, and I’d been asleep for about two hours. My memory of it is waking up and them going slap slap, two Mounties dragging me about the room slapping me. Trying to get me “conscious.” Bang bang bang bang bang. Who are you? What’s your name? Do you know where you are and why we’re here? “My name’s Keith Richards, and I’m in the Harbour Hotel. What you’re doing here I have no idea.”  (391-92)

Ah, those bungling Mounties – no match for the insouciant Richards wit!

Really it’s not a particularly appealing image of our red-coated, brass-buttoned national police force, dragging a drug-addled rock star around his hotel room and slapping him to try to wake him up. I doubt they put that on the recruitment posters.

Meanwhile they’d found my stash. And it was about an ounce. Quite a lot. No more than a man needs. I mean, it wouldn’t feed the city. But obviously they knew their shit, like I knew my shit, and it was clearly not the Canada smack. It had come from England. I’d put it in the flight case.  (392)

It’s encouraging at least to be told the Mounties “knew their shit” – this is the first real indication that they’re not a backwoods version of the Keystone Kops. But it doesn’t last.

So they arrest me, take me to this Mountie police station, and it’s really not my time of day.  (392)

The Richards wit again.

…because of the amount they found, they decided to charge me with trafficking, which is an automatic jail sentence for a very long time, in Canada.  (392)

Oh, they send you to jail for drug trafficking in Canada? How positively medieval.

I said, OK, fine. Give me a gram back. “Oh, we can’t do that.” I said, so what are you going to do now? You know I need it and that I’m going to have to get it. What are you going to do? Follow me and bust me again? Is that your game? How are you going to play this? Give me some back till I figure this out. “Oh no, no.”  (392)

Here Richards comes across as the practical man stymied by the prissy, almost school-marmish attitude of the Mounties, who refuse to give him back enough of his heroin to get him through.

But all of this is relatively minor compared to what follows. Any reader who knows anything about Keith Richards would expect him to be conversant in matters of narcotics and dealing with the police, but we now enter into subject area where his expertise may come as a bit more of a surprise: political philosophy:

Yet again someone was seriously after my ass, and the situation was further complicated by Margaret Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, moving into the hotel as a Stones appendage, offering a double-big tabloid story. The prime minister’s young wife with the Stones, and you throw in drugs, you’re looking at a three-month run. In the end it may have played in my favor, but at the time it was the worst combination of circumstances. Margaret Trudeau was twenty-two and Trudeau was fifty-one when they got married. It was a bit like Sinatra and Mia Farrow – the power and the flower child. And now Trudeau’s bride – and this was exactly their sixth wedding anniversary – was seen walking in our corridors in a bathrobe. So then the story was that she had left him. She had, in fact, moved into the room next to Ronnie, and they were hitting it off really well, or, as Ronnie put it so nicely in his memoirs, “We shared something special for that short time.” She flew to New York to escape the publicity, but Mick flew to New York as well, so it was assumed they too were an item. Worse and worse. She was a groupie, that’s all she was, pure and simple. Nothing wrong with that. But you shouldn’t be a prime minister’s wife if you want to be a groupie.  (392-3)

Groupies shouldn’t be married to prime ministers – talk about incisive commentary. (And please note the restraint I’m exercising in avoiding any obvious “Stones appendage” jokes.)

Actually, I found this part of the book exciting: there was Canada, right at the heart of a celebrity scandal. The wife of our prime minister was living in a hotel with the most famous rock band on the planet. Canada was, for a brief, shining moment, cool. Of course we didn’t know it at the time; we were probably embarrassed – or, more likely, horrified.

At another hearing they added a charge of cocaine possession and revoked bail…. I would have loved to have dared them to put me in jail. It was all bullshit. They didn’t have the balls. They weren’t feeling confident.  (393)

Well, there it is: “They didn’t have the balls. They weren’t feeling confident.” Richards is referring to the Canadian authorities, but could any two sentences more succinctly sum up the way the rest of the world views Canada? Our whole national identity seems to be captured there. We’re not confident. We don’t have the balls.

Things brighten a little bit from there:

It was Stu [Ian Stewart] who suggested that I should use the waiting time to put down some tracks of my own – put something down to remember the man by. He hired a studio, a beautiful piano and a microphone. The result has been doing the circuit for a while – KR’s Toronto Bootleg. We just did all the country songs … but there was a certain poignancy because at that moment things looked a bit grim.  (393-4)

So that’s the prize we got out of it – Toronto is forever associated with a Keith Richards bootleg recording. Here’s a sample:

Richards managed to get out of Canada and into the U.S., supposedly into a drug treatment program, and later had the charges reduced, plead guilty and got a suspended sentence; here are the details for those who really want to know.

And here’s a picture of him in the suit he wore for his trial:

richardssuitpic

You probably can’t read the caption, but it says:

Suit bought with difficulty on a Sunday for my trial in Toronto, October, 1978.

This will no doubt bring up fond memories for all those who recall Toronto’s “Sunday shopping” battles of a few decades ago. Richards is clearly tweaking Toronto as a sleepy, pious city so trapped in a small-town mentality that you can’t even shop on the Sabbath. Whether this look flatters him, or was likely to win over a Toronto courtroom, I’ll leave for others to judge.

In the end, Richards seems to have been left with a positive view of Canada: his praise of Toronto in this video starts at around the 30-second mark:

Interestingly, he remarks that Toronto has always “been good to us,” i.e. to the Rolling Stones, and then goes on to say, “Especially to me. I mean, they got me out of jail.” An odd way of looking at things; since Keith was arrested and tried in Toronto, he might say it was Toronto that put him in jail.

But, ever the optimist, he sees it the other way round.

Sex with a Canadian? No thanks!

GlynnCover3

Alan Glynn, Limitless (originally The Dark Fields) (2001)

I confess I only read this book after watching the film version with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Does that make me a bad person? Perhaps. And as you can see from the photo, I even read the movie tie-in edition with the cheesy film poster on the cover and the actors’ names displayed at the top while the author’s name is relegated to the bottom. Shameless!

The book was originally published under the title The Dark Fields; I was going to seek out a copy with that cover to try to make myself look more intellectual, but in the end I couldn’t be bothered. The film edition was published by Faber, the legendary British publisher where T.S. Eliot worked, so I felt if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. (Even established British publishers with high literary reputations have to cash in now and then if they want to keep the doors open and the lights on.)

The first reference to Canada is actually a reference to our old friend Canadian bacon. The main character, Eddie, has been given a pill by his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon, who used to be a coke dealer and has now moved into higher-end pharmaceuticals. The pill is (and here I quote the back cover blurb) “a sort of Viagra for the brain,” and the first hit has worked such wonders for Eddie (he cleans his apartment and alphabetizes his CD collection in one afternoon!) that he goes to visit Vernon to try to score some more. Before selling him the pills, Vernon sends Eddie out to pick up his dry cleaning and some breakfast:

“Get me a toasted English with scrambled eggs and Swiss, and a side of Canadian bacon, and a regular coffee. And whatever you want yourself.” (45)

A couple of pages later Eddie is in the elevator on his way back up to Vernon’s apartment:

I was alone in the elevator and toyed with the idea of appropriating one of Vernon’s strips of Canadian bacon, but decided against it on the grounds that it would be too sad, and – with the suit on a wire hanger –  also a little difficult to manoeuvre. (49)

I would love to know what it is about Americans and Canadian bacon. Admittedly, any type of bacon will have a seductive aroma in an enclosed space; still, the image of this New Yorker in an elevator, desperate to steal some of his dealer’s Canadian bacon, seems like a real compliment. The dealer could well be pissed off if he noticed some of his Canadian bacon was missing, and yet it’s so tempting that Eddie is only able to resist when he considers that the physical contortions required to steal the bacon while holding Vernon’s suit render it essentially impossible anyway.

To pick up the story, Eddie returns to the apartment and finds Vernon shot dead; he calls the police, and later on one of the cops picks up the breakfast bag:

He opened it and took out the items inside – the two coffees, the muffin, the Canadian bacon, the condiments – and laid them out along the table in a line, like the fragments of a skeleton displayed in a forensics laboratory. (57)

Talk about obsessive repetition: those two words, Canadian bacon, ring like a chime through these pages of the novel – or is it just that my ears, always alert for Canadian references, hear it that way?

We’ve come upon a reference to Canadian bacon before, in Edward St Aubyn’s Bad News; and as in that book, Limitless also involves a drug user ordering a breakfast that includes Canadian bacon. Does Canadian bacon have some sort of connection to the drug culture in the U.S.? Is it known as a favourite food of addicts? Or is this just coincidence?

A bit later in the novel, when regular use of the MDT pill has begun to unlock Eddie’s mental potential, Canada crops up again:

After a while, a few friends of Dean’s arrived and we all had dinner together. There was a middle-aged couple I’d met once before, called Paul and Ruby Baxter, who were both architects, and a young Canadian actress called Susan. Over dinner, we discussed lots of subjects, and it quickly became apparent to everyone present, myself included, that elaborate, scarily articulate views on just about everything were going to be emanating from my end of the table. (77)

The fact that Susan is Canadian doesn’t seem particularly germane; it’s more like a detail attached to a name to add a touch of specificity to a minor character. And I suppose one does meet Canadian actresses in New York. On the following page:

Neither was it my imagination, a bit later, when Susan started flirting with me, casually brushing her arm against mine, holding my gaze. (78)

I got pretty excited at this point – a sex scene with a Canadian seemed to be in the offing. Would there be some outré sexual position that only Canadians know? Would she scream “Mon dieu!” instead of “Oh God!” Would she demand that the air conditioning be turned way up to simulate conditions in the igloo where she lived in her ice-bound homeland?

Alas:

I was able to side-track [Susan] by returning to the Bruckner-Mahler debate with Paul…. An increasingly bewildered Dean went home some time after two, as did Susan. (78)

Eddie sounds like a bit of a pill, doesn’t he? Why does he want to “sidetrack” her? A Canadian actress is flirting with him, and he’d rather argue the relative merits of Bruckner and Mahler?

Does he reject her because she’s Canadian? Later in the book he has an affair with a Frenchwoman, and he has sex with several women who are presumably American, as well as (possibly) one Mexican woman, so he’s obviously up for it with women of other nationalities. And yet the Canadian actress meets only rejection. How insulting.

The final reference to Canada comes at the very end, when Eddie is on the run from agents of a shadowy pharmaceutical company; I’m pleased to say I could almost feel this one coming as he described driving north out of New York and into Vermont in a rented SUV:

I stopped at the Northview Motor Lodge at around ten o’clock. There was no point in driving any further. It was pitch dark now, and where was I going to go in any case? On up to Maine? New Brunswick? Nova Scotia? (339)

Up to this point in the novel, Eddie has never left New York City, with the exception of one brief foray into New Jersey. Now, desperate to escape, he has driven all the way to Vermont, and he clearly feels that’s enough.

Canada represents a destination so far away that it’s not even rational to go there; it’s hard to miss the growing tone of incredulity as the question marks pile up at the end of this passage, as if to say no one could expect a New Yorker – even a desperate New Yorker on the run – to go as far as New Brunswick or, God forbid, Nova Scotia. It’s like another country up there.

And so we have Canada according to Alan Glynn’s Limitless:

1. We make good bacon, but

2. no one wants to have sex with us, and

3. any thinking man would await death at the hands of pharmaceutical company thugs in the relative civilization of Vermont before he would run the risk of facing whatever mysterious dangers await in the obscure hinterlands of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Canada sounds limited indeed.

Canadian Bacon?

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels

Edward St. Aubyn, Bad News (The Patrick Melrose Novels) (2003)

Bad News, the second novel in the original Patrick Melrose trilogy, picks up the story of Patrick, now 22, over the course of a week-end in New York, where he has gone to collect the ashes of his father and spends most of his time searching for and taking a harrowing smorgasbord of drugs. At this point in the trilogy I began to experience the sad sensation of diminishing returns: extended, simile-laden descriptions of drug injection become tedious pretty quickly, and there’s really not a lot else here. The devices by which Patrick encounters several of the characters from the first novel (all, coincidentally, in New York at the same time he is) become a little creaky; this problem grows even more pronounced in the third novel, Some Hope, which, like Never Mind, centres around a single day and a single party, at which almost every character from the first two novels is present, as well as some new ones.

Bad News does, however, contain a second reference to Canada:

Patrick hung up the phone and glanced at the clock. Six-thirty-five. He ordered Canadian bacon, fried eggs, toast, porridge, stewed fruit, orange juice, coffee, and tea. (225)

Canadian bacon (which can mean either peameal or back bacon) is apparently regarded quite highly by some Americans: check out the Real Canadian Bacon Co., which specializes in importing Canadian bacon (peameal in this case), “the finest gourmet meat available from Canada.” (It’s a bit sad to think the finest gourmet meat we offer is bacon. Not our Alberta steaks? Our Ontario lamb? Our wild Pacific salmon? (Does salmon count as meat?))

And on the next page:

Patrick’s breakfast was devastated without being eaten … rashers of bacon hung on the edge of a plate smeared with egg yolk…. (226)

So what exactly has Patrick ordered? In the U.S., “Canadian bacon” can mean either peameal or back bacon; but the word “rasher” in the second quote strikes me as more suggestive of back than peameal, though I’m not sure why. In the end it may not be possible, based on the references in the book, to determine a) what St. Aubyn himself means by Canadian bacon, or b) what the New York hotel at which Patrick orders the meal would mean by Canadian bacon. St. Aubyn himself is British, so the curious can peruse this rather exhaustive (not to say exhausting) survey of what exactly bacon means to the British.

To return to the point: what does this say about St. Aubyn’s views on Canada and Canadians? It seems we’ve gone from lumberjacks to producers of bacon; not what I would call making massive strides in the imagination of the world. Canada remains, in the mind of St. Aubyn, a nation devoted to providing products for the consumption of others.

Post Navigation