Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bike follies

While it wasn't a particularly nice day out on Tuesday, at least it was reasonably warm, so I thought I would get my bike out and ride to work.  I know it will take quite a while before it is comfortable for me to ride in (after a layoff of basically four months), so I have to ease myself into it but I also just need to quit delaying and just start doing it.

So this morning I pumped up the back tire quite a bit and set off.  By the end of the block, it was flat again, so I tried again, pumping even more air in, and then two blocks away it was again completely flat.  This is particularly frustrating as I bought an extra thick back tire and a new innertube on the last tune-up and that was only in September.  No way should I have such a huge hole in the innertube.  But it's hard to argue with the facts on the ground, as it were.

This threw off my entire morning, as I had to change back into my work clothes.  I decided to wait until the nearest bike shop opened and drop it off, then head off to work, so I was even later than usual.  On the other hand, I was able to get a new tune-up and the tube replaced for a reasonable price -- and they were finished with it in a single day.  (This is the positive aspect of getting started a bit earlier than the rest of the biking crowds.)  So I will try to ride in today and perhaps tomorrow if I am not too sore.  Even if I grumble a bit about it, I will be very glad to finally be getting some more sustained exercise.

Edit: I made it to work and back with no major issues.  Drivers are slowly remembering how to deal with cyclists on the road and the bike lanes aren't completely jammed, like they will be in late April.  I'm pretty sore, but I'll try to push through and ride tomorrow, then rest Friday through the weekend (it's supposed to rain anyway).

Sunday, March 26, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 23rd Review - Natasha

Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis is a relatively short book of stories.  It is similar to Munro's Lives of Girls and Women in that it is essentially a novel told in short story form, here focusing on Mark Berman and his family.


In the first story "Tapka," Mark and his slightly older cousin, Jana, are quite young children.  They are adjusting to life in Canada, as their family of Russian Jews, has settled in Toronto in 1980, after a short transition period in Rome.  Incidentally, Bezmozgis has written a novel (The Free World) based on another Russian Jewish family, stuck in Rome, trying to decide whether to immigrate to Israel (with an easy path to immigration) but still holding out hope for the United States, with Canada seen as an acceptable alternative.  Mark's family spends some time with another Russian couple in their apartment, though Mark's mother disapproves of how much attention the other couple lavishes on their dog, Tapka.  The dog ultimately drives a wedge between the families, though it is likely that class considerations would have had the same effect over time, since Mark's parents are more driven to learn English and assimilate into Canadian life and would have left the other couple behind eventually.

In fact, in virtually every story, we find that Mark's family has moved, first into another apartment a few blocks away from the rest of the Russian Jews (paying an extra $10 for that privilege).  Then to a bigger apartment.  And eventually to a house in the suburbs (I assume this was probably North York, though it could have been the northern portion of Etobicoke).  In addition to his factory job, Mark's father has his own business as a massage therapist (he actually used to train weight-lifters in the U.S.S.R.).  The business is very slow to take off, as noted in "Roman Berman, Massage Therapist" and they are still struggling in "The Second Strongest Man."  I particularly liked the opening of that story: "In the winter of 1984, as my mother was recovering from a nervous breakdown and my father's business hovered precipitously between failure and near failure, the international weightlifting championships were held at the Toronto Convention Centre."

Eventually they reach a level of economic security by the time they buy this house (at the start of the story "Natasha").  As a complete aside, the housing prices in Toronto and the GTHA in general are now so high that immigrants that move here with just some moxy (but no cash reserves from the old country) are not likely to be able to eventually buy their way into the Canadian dream, like the Bermans did.  It's not necessarily the end of the world to be bound to the rental market, but it probably does feel like these newer immigrant families are kind of stuck in place in a way that is distinctly different from what immigrants faced prior to the late 1990s.  Of course, there are immigrants coming to Canada today with loads of cash, largely but not exclusively from Hong Kong and China; that is a very different story (one that hopefully will be explored in literature at some point).

The odd thing is that while each story has a somewhat downbeat feel to it (we see Mark humiliated on his father's behalf a couple of times and he suffers in other ways), as the stories progress, the family becomes more and more comfortable.  It seems that the move to Canada has definitely paid off, particularly when former friends from the U.S.S.R. turn up for a weight-lifting competition in "The Second Strongest Man."  As one of the judges, Mark's father gets to relive his glory days, but the focus of the story really is on one of the weight-lifters who is nearing the end of his career and will be put out to pasture back in the U.S.S.R.  The weight-lifter and all his minders are all more than a little jealous that the Bermans escaped, almost entirely because of their Jewish roots, so there is also quite a bit of tension in this story.

Mark's father is still alive through "Natasha," but a very shadowy character.  I am not sure whether the fact Mark is reading Kafka's Diaries is supposed to be a tip-off that he has suffered a kind of break with his father.  Unless I have completely missed it, the father doesn't turn up at all in the final two stories, even in passing, although Mark's mother and aunt do.  It is possible that he has passed away or it might be that Bezmozgis doesn't want to confuse the tone of the story by having to downplay the (presumable) success of the father.  Another thing that I found a bit confusing is that in "An Animal to the Memory," Mark's grandfather says he will go to Israel rather than Canada, but in the final two stories "Choynski" and "Minyan" Mark has grandparents living in Canada.  I'm fairly sure it is his paternal grandfather in the first case and his maternal grandparents in the second (and this partially explains why his father fades out of the picture), but it might have been better to be a bit more clear about it.

There is quite a gap between "Natasha" and "Choynski."  It is implied that Mark went to university (likely on some kind of a scholarship unless his parents' fortunes had really improved) and he is able to hold down solid jobs, though he is between jobs in "Minyan."  He is able to buy plane tickets to research obscure sports figures and make long-distance calls (back when they were still on the expensive side), so he has definitely moved up on the economic ladder; in that sense, moving to Canada definitely paid off for the Bermans.  While Mark was definitely starting to run a little wild in "An Animal to the Memory" where he became the toughest kid in Hebrew school (not exactly a compliment) and was smoking a lot of weed in "Natasha," he seems to have straightened out and become a mensch in "Choynski" and he actually enjoys spending time with his grandparents.  While I think a story about Mark in university or in his first job after university probably would have helped round out the collection, it is possible that Bezgozmis prefers that Mark's transformation (the one he vows to undertake at the end of "Natasha") is better kept off-screen, much like Jay Gatsby's.

"Natasha" is quite a remarkable story -- definitely my favorite from the collection.  Note that it does have a certain prurient aspect to it.  Maybe this is the equivalent of "Portnoy's Complaint" for Russian Canadian Jews...  Mark is lazing away at home for the summer.  He is starting to get flak from his parents, since he can't tell them he is actually running errands for the local dope dealer, Rufus, who is also a philosophy major at U of T.  His uncle has just married a Russian woman, who arrives with her 14 year-old daughter, Natasha, in tow.  It is decided that Mark will keep Natasha company (and out of the newlyweds' hair) by teaching her English.  It doesn't take long before Natasha lets Mark know she hates her mother, whom she considers a whore.  Natasha has quite a bit of sexual experience already, having been in a number of pornographic videos shot in Russia.  It doesn't take long for her and Mark to get busy, but she quickly realizes that he isn't going to be able to "rescue" her from her family, so she seduces a number of other men.  This reminded me a lot of the movie Bowfinger where one character starts by sleeping with the writer(!) and progresses through pretty much all the other men on set.  Mark had sort of considered himself wise and jaded before, but this episode really opened his eyes to life.  As I said, it is a fairly remarkable story.  The collection as a whole is worth reading, but "Natasha" is a must-read.

Epic dreams

I wonder if perhaps my overworked brain is trying to compensate for the fact that I have basically cut out television and movies (even though I assume one of these days I'll work my way through all the DVDs I hoarded all the way through my 30s).  Thus, I have been having these elaborate, baroque dreams where the point is just to show all kinds of elaborate dreamscape sets.  For instance, two weeks ago, I dreamed I was with a small group of people going through a contemporary art museum (quite a bit like LACMA incidentally), though the final exhibit was closed and we could just sort of peek to see what was going to be on display.  While the dream was mostly about some urgency I felt about getting out of the museum, the real goal (I assume) was for me to later marvel at how my mind could completely fill up the museum walls with art that was completely original.  Had I the ability to record dreams, I am sure the art would have been nothing particularly special and probably would not actually have that much definition (would be fuzzy if you looked too closely) and probably had gaps or white areas where the brain didn't bother to fill in the details, but it still felt fairly impressive at the time.

A few days after that, I was dreaming I was walking through an enormous jumble sale in the space of a warehouse.  The local library had box upon box of books (though most of the boxes were in fact still closed up), but I did flip through a large stack of comics (needless to say that do not exist in real life).  As I was leaving the sale, I ran into a small group of snarky teens, and rather than getting into an argument with them, I decided to gift them one of the comics to show that there still is some kindness in the world.

My general rule is that (other people's) dreams are boring, and I really feel relying on dreams in literature is a cop-out, with a very few exceptions, such as Lewis Carroll who sort of started the trend.  But contemporary books where entire chapters turn out to be dreams are a huge turn-off for me, and that goes double for plays, though I suppose there are some exceptions, such as Grote's 1001 where it worked fairly well.

All that said, last night's dream was a doozy with 3 or 4 movie plots all stitched together.  So here goes.

My role/position in the dream was actually a little hazy, though I think I was the sidekick to the main character who was a lot like Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne movies, with a bit of 1970s era Captain Kirk thrown in, but who also had mad MacGyver skills.  Anyway, the dream kicked off with us uncovering some skullduggery at a big bank somewhere in Chicago.  It turned out that some wealthy client was having his accounts pilfered.  Jason (as I'll call him) actually chased the evil manager into the back of the bank, which didn't have a bank vault, but more of a men's health club/spa!  Anyway, the tables were turned on us, and we were ushered into a driver-less shuttle which dropped us off in a kind of crypt belonging to the bank, somewhere in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood, not far from Lake Michigan.  There were two or even more people stuck in the crypt with us.

We figured it was only a matter of time before they came back and killed us, so we had to escape the locked vault.  Of course, we had almost no tools, so we were trying to take screws and use them as saws, etc.  At some point, we managed to break into a fancy wall clock and behind it was an entire room with even more records of what the evil bankers had been up to, i.e. more records of clients who had died under mysterious circumstances.  The dream kept focusing on one batch of records and artifacts that seemed to imply this client had a secret love child who was a geisha-in-training in Japan.  I assumed that the dream was going in the direction of us breaking out of the vault and going to Japan to try to rescue her.  But no.

All of a sudden, I saw my father-in-law talking on a phone with lousy reception (sort of a parody of the "Can You Hear Me Now?" commercials).  He had stumbled upon the crypt (apparently it was easy to open from the outside but sealed tight from the inside).  Before I could blink, MTV decided to host a Rock the Vote party in the crypt (but turn it into a party that lasted the entire election), and the place was completely full of revelers and plenty of cameras.  We weren't entirely sure we could leave, but it seemed fairly safe inside, so we started plotting our next moves.

The people split into 6 or so groups, aligned with the remaining contenders (also stealing a bit from the Harry Potter houses I assume).  The evil bankers managed to sneak in a bomb in the shape of a small bird statue (unfortunately, MTV's idea of security was tragically lax).  This only impacted one of the "houses" and rather than showing the explosion, there was a jump cut outside the room so I only heard it.  Then the entrance to the room was immediately sealed off with small blue tiles, with the resulting wall looking like a subway wall.  The tiles might have been nanobots (like in Hero 6).

I do remember some older governor-type was thrilled about all government funding being turned into block grants by President Trump, and I didn't feel like getting in an argument over why this was a terrible idea.  He decided to set up a suggestion box that said "Hey, Millennials, what do you want government to do for you?" and they could stuff it with their thoughts. (Unfortunately, this isn't far off from the state of political discourse today, though obviously it should be a Twitter account and not anything that required writing an actual note...)

Then there was an outdoor shot -- we had apparently converted the crypt into more of a compound, still with tons of people running around.  I spent some time looking over the lake, and it had apparently been converted to a launching pad for zeppelins and other lighter-than-air vehicles.  Some of these were launched and they reached the upper atmosphere very quickly, and then went wherever they were supposed to go.  The sky was full of balloons.  One came down far too fast and crashed.  It was probably sabotage by the bankers, since it wiped out another one of the "houses."

We went back inside, and I was trying to find where one of the other groups had gone to.  It was getting kind of eerie, and I went deeper into the "house" and then went downstairs, past an cafeteria-sized kitchen, towards a large shower area.  I could feel that the water was blasting hot.  (Now we moved into HBO-style movie.)  Everyone had been turned into a statue of some sort and then left under the hot showers with the "camera" lingering on the dead women.  I guess the implication was that the paralysis may have only been temporary but then the extreme heat had done them in.  That's basically where the dream ended, with only 3 of the houses remaining, and Jason and myself still deciding on our next steps to avoid being picked off.  It was a lot to pack into one dream, that's for sure...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Three Sisters - closing soon!

It is quite a shame that there have been essentially no reviews of Wolf Manor's Three Sisters.  Even Mooney's which tries to review everything seems to have missed this.  The only review I have come across was this positive review, which I think is quite fair.

I'm not sure one can completely enjoy Chekhov, particularly Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya, since the underlying message is sort of life stinks (and your heart will inevitably be broken and your relatives will probably steal from you) but keep persevering and particularly keep working away.  Also, sometimes the endings, particularly these two I mentioned, could probably use a bit more nuance, rather than the characters going on about how unhappy they are.  Some of the newer translations do try to soften this a bit.

All that said, this is probably the best version I have seen, particularly since I didn't catch Strawdog doing Three Sisters in 2005 (though I did catch their superb Uncle Vanya).  I saw a decent version in Vancouver at the Cultch, though I mostly remember just how much I hated the Natalya character (here named Natasha).

She is just as annoying here -- and interestingly the actor doubles and plays another unpleasant character, Solyony, who seems to feel that he has some claim to Irina's heart, though she certainly has never encouraged him.

The play is played with only a few modifications.  The district commander, Vershinin, is gender flipped, which amplifies Olga's disapproval when Masha insists on telling her that she (Masha) has fallen in love with Vershinin.  There also appear to be small additions to the text that the cast speak to each other, almost inaudibly, as they move between scenes.  I might be wrong about that, however.

It is a fairly heart-rending play about how most people's dreams are dashed.  Even when one does marry the girl of one's dreams (as Andrey marries Natasha), then the reality ends up so much poorer than one's dreams.  For me, this was the first time I really paid much attention to the Andrey character.  He was quite compelling in the first act, seeming particularly eager to please like a puppy, and it was such a disappointment later when he was ordering his sisters around, telling them not to cross Natasha.  I wouldn't say there was redemption later, but he did reveal just how unhappy he was, basically trying (but failing) to deceive himself about the truth about his wife.

Anyway, there is one more show tonight and then tomorrow (Sunday), both at 8 pm, and if you are interested in Chekhov, you should go see this particularly intimate performance. I should note that it is in the basement of Kensington Hall (in Kensington Market naturally).  This is also where I saw Paradise Comics.  I have basically decided that if I can launch "The Study Group" (after finishing up another few projects) then Kensington Hall is probably the perfect location for staging it.

Getting involved in the scene

I haven't quite decided to take the plunge, but I'll probably join the Writer's Group that is associated with Toronto Cold Reads.  I wouldn't go so far as to say Toronto Cold Reads is a closed shop where only the associated writers have their scripts read on Sunday, but it clearly helps to be in the in group, since they come up with interesting writer challenges, such as the Three-Fest where three writers collaborate on three scripts, which are then put up.  I would say that Toronto Cold Reads seems less open than Sing-for-your-supper, however, in terms of how decisions are made about what goes up.  (And looking back a couple of years, I was definitely feeling a bit alienated from SFYS, so my moods and attitudes towards these groups are definitely changeable...) All that said, given the number of projects I do want to bring to a conclusion, joining a writer's group is probably a smart thing to do.  I got a lot of benefit from writing groups in the past, and in general the one here seems to be a fairly active and talented group.

In any event, while I haven't quite been able to pull off a reading of my work here (aside from SFYS and that time I did 1000 Monkeys at Red Sandcastle), I am meeting more actors and even a director or two who have some interest in my plays, so I think this may be the year I break through.  But I also need to devote more time and a lot more effort to this if I want to make it happen.  Nothing just falls in your lap.  In terms of making that effort, I did submit a pitch to a theatre festival (in this case I submitted the first 1/3 of the "Final Exam" script, but I really ought to finish it soon) and I am going to be sending in a different pitch for a theatre company that wants to work with four writers throughout the season to develop their pet projects.  In the latter case, I would use the opportunity to wrap up the Straying South project, which I have outlined here.  I'm not really sure which of the two would excite me more, though probably Straying South would have better long-term prospects.  Anyway, I will definitely take time this weekend to work on both projects.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Literary triage

I mentioned in passing that I still don't cut and run with too many novels, though there were a few I bailed on in 2016 (Chaudhuri's The Immortals and Verjee's In Between Dreams in particular).  I suspect every 5 years, I will ratchet down my willingness to stick with novels that are boring me.

I have definitely started bailing on theatre more often now.  I left midway through Anouilh's version of Antigone and then The Suicide at George Brown last season.  I wish I had left during Tartuffe, though I probably wouldn't have convinced myself that leaving was the right thing to do without sitting through that totally lame ending.  Anyway, to add to this list, I found The Millennial Malcontent to be completely off-putting without a single character that I could bear to listen to.  If I could have left midway through the first act, I would have done so.  At least half of the people in my row left during intermission, and by the side door, making it clear they had no intention of returning.  I had already been primed to be disappointed, as the reviews were uniformly mediocre (here and here for a flavour), and I had been very flustered since I had to work until 7 sharp, and then ran up to Tarragon, worried that I would be late.  When I got there, I thought it was a very bad sign that they had closed off most of the upper deck seats, corralling the audience lower (which I didn't appreciate at all).  Based on the people I saw leaving at intermission, I would say roughly half the audience left at the break, which must be incredibly deflating for the actors.  It isn't really their fault they are in a flop of epic proportions.  In any case, I actively disliked the vast majority of characters, and, perhaps more damning, I really disliked the style of the play.

I am putting Erin Shields on my list of playwrights who are effectively quarantined -- I have to either read the play or see a positive review from a source I trust (basically down to the Globe and Mail and Slotkin Letter at this point unfortunately) before I see another of her plays.  She joins Norm Foster and Morris Panych.  Now it happens that I saw Hart House do a solid version of Panych's 7 Stories, and I also saw Tarragon do Sextet, which may well be his best play.  But I read through The Dishwashers and thought it was a terrible play (and generally reviews from stagings across Canada have not been kind), and I couldn't even bear to read more than a couple of pages of The Shoplifters.  (The ending was every bit as bad as I expected based on the beginning.)  Time and money are just too short to spend them on playwrights who have so deeply disappointed me.  That's why my default setting will be to skip them, and I will have to be convinced that this time around it is different.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 22nd Review - Family Matters

Rohinton Mistry is a bit of a puzzle to me.  He writes extremely well and develops characters that engage the reader, but then he leaves them in terrible straits.  I may be wrong, but I assume that is his way of working through the vast injustices that he sees in India, where fate is generally quite cruel to his characters.  (Indeed, A Fine Balance was one of the bleakest novels I have ever read.  I can't really imagine reading it a second time, though I might possibly reread Such a Long Journey some day.)  Mistry migrated to Canada in 1975 as a young adult, though all his novels are set in India, so he has been mining the territory of his youth, though Family Matters is set in India in the 1990s, i.e. after his immigration.  One of the families in Family Matters had dreamed of moving to Canada, at a time when the immigration procedures were changing and it was more difficult to immigrate legally if one didn't have a technical background (to satisfy the point-based system) and their dream was dashed.  (I'm blanking on any other specific references to Canada, which is more of a dream of a better future than a real place in Mistry's fiction.)  It isn't clear what he has been working on since Family Matters (2002).  He did publish The Scream in 2008, though it seems more like a minor variation of the main character, Nariman Vakeel, who is slightly more vocal about his perceived ill-treatment by his family.

In some ways, this is his least bleak novel, though there are still plenty of major and minor tragedies that befall several of the characters; also there is a somewhat disturbing turn of events at the end, which I'll get to in short order.  There is more of an expressed moral order to the universe in this novel (than the others) in the sense that characters who are particularly spiteful and/or who cannot forgive others suffer for it.  That said, there are still quite a few random tragedies that occur, and Mistry seems to be saying that one must learn to go with the flow and generally keep one's head down to survive in Mumbai.  In particular, Mistry seems to be indicting the religious prejudices that are very much alive in India, while at the same time suggesting that the depth of sectarianism is so strong in India that dating across religious lines inevitably leads to tragedy.  The only escape is to leave India altogether, though this is an avenue not open to most.


As I mentioned somewhat briefly in this post, the set-up for the novel is that Nariman Vakeel, a former professor of English, is suffering generally from the infirmities of old age and specifically from Parkinson's disease.  He lives with his step-son, Jal, and step-daughter, Coomy, in a large flat.  His daughter, Roxana, lives with her family in a two bedroom apartment in a different part of Mumbai.  Despite considerable tension in the household (due to Coomy blaming her step-father for the death of their mother), life goes on until right after Nariman's 79th birthday.  Shortly after this event, he goes out for a walk and breaks his ankle.  The strains of having to care for him while he is confined to bed basically causes Coomy to snap and she dumps Nariman off at Roxana's apartment, despite her family's cramped living arrangements.  The first hundred pages or so really go deep into the difficulties of caring for an aged parent, and I felt considerable relief when the book's focus shifted to the expense of Nariman's care and less about his infirmities (not that this ever completely was eliminated as a theme -- one turning point is when Roxana's husband, Yezad, finally comes around and helps with the bedpan).

Anyway, relief is a relative term.  Yezad and Roxana really struggle to make ends meet with the additional expenses, even after Coomy turns over Nariman's pension to them.  Yezad is tempted into gambling, which doesn't turn out well.  He is also frustrated at work when his boss more or less promises him a promotion and then changes his mind.  One of the children ends up corrupted at school, taking bribe money to help laggards cheat on their homework, just because he wants to help out with these expenses.  As a bit of a counter to these events, Mistry shows that the family really does care for each other and that the children basically do have good values but are under extreme pressure.  (This is sort of the same theme as Achebe's No Longer at Ease, though fortunately the teacher is much more forgiving or understanding and the child's future is not ruined, which it easily could have been been.)

Mistry is almost Victorian in the way that scheming always leads to unhappy outcomes and -- perhaps because there is so much free-floating misery in India -- others get swept up in it.

Again, SPOILERS...

Coomy intentionally has their ceilings ruined to make it look like there is a major structural damage to the flat (to keep from having to bring Nariman back), but eventually is forced to bring in an incompetent handyman to fix them.  She and the handyman both die in an accident.  Yezad tries to spook his boss back into running for an election, so he will be promoted in the meantime, so he hires two actors to pretend to be Shiv Sena (an ultra-nationalist, Hindu-first party) and demand the name of the store be changed (from Bombay Sporting Goods Emporium to Mumbai Sporting Goods Emporium*).  But then the real Shiv Sena show up and his boss is killed in a clash in the store, which quickly leads to Yezad losing his job after the store is sold.  After all this unhappiness, Jal finds a way to reunite the families and bring in enough money to keep everyone afloat.  Unfortunately, Nariman's ankle never heals well enough for him to walk again and he declines fairly quickly, but still he is surrounded by family when he dies.

This would almost make for a Hallmark-special type ending, but Mistry has a few tricks up his sleeve.  Yezad has gradually been going to temple and becoming more religious.  This seems to accelerate quickly after he loses his job and isn't able to find another one.  It's also quite likely that his guilt over his role in his boss's death leads him into religious mania, not completely dissimilar to Lady Macbeth's outbursts.  In the short term, this makes him much more appreciative of his family and more willing to help take care of his father-in-law.  He also more or less stops trying to find work, which then allows him to spend even more time at temple.  In the long term, he becomes deeply religiously conservative, to the point that he tries to forbid his son from talking to, let alone dating, any girls of a different religious background.  Thus, we come full circle back to the tragedy of Nariman's young adulthood when his parents (and indeed the community at large) forced him to give up the love of his life, Lucy, and marry his wife.  While he did find some happiness with her (and both loved Roxana), it seems fairly clear that everyone would have had a happier (and longer!) life had religious prejudice not kept the two apart.  Thus, Mistry seems to be saying that for the most part no one in India has learned anything from Gandhi and that religious sectarianism still is blighting the country.  What is left unsaid is that the only way out seems to be escaping the country completely.  (Perhaps Yezad would have not have fallen back into fanaticism had he been in a more secular society, such as Canada.)

Thus, the novel is quite depressing though in a different way from Such a Long Journey or A Fine Balance.  (It actually has a number of humorous passages, but the overall impact is still fairly grim.)  It is definitely not a novel one would want to read if trying to escape from today's poisoned political climate, for example.  It is also not a novel that one should read when "feeling old," since it offers a pretty grim picture of what life may well be like for the elderly after they reach Shakespeare's 7th Age of Man.  The number one lesson from Family Matters seems to be to do one's best not to die poor, while the second lesson is not to alienate one's children or step-children, since one will need them again late in life.  Do with that what you will...

* While certainly on a different scale, I couldn't help but think of some of the Quebec laws around signage during this part of the novel.