A riotous new novel from the #1 bestselling author of the hit sensation The Garneau Block.
By all accounts, Stanley Moss is an average man. A retired florist, he lives quietly with his wife, Frieda, in a modest bungalow in Edmonton. Stricken with cancer, Stanley has few wishes for the time he has left, except perhaps for his son to call him back. But on the day of an appointment with the palliative care specialist, Stanley experiences a boom and a flash, and then, a remarkable transformation. He discovers he can read minds. He can fulfill people’s dreams. He has the strength of ten men. And, his illness has vanished. What could this mean? Could it be, as his New Age friend Alok believes, that Stanley’s powers are divine? Is Stanley, a confirmed agnostic, the new Messiah?
With Alok and a reluctant Frieda in tow, Stanley heads to Banff (the most sacred place on earth) to look for answers and find a way to use his new powers for good. He encounters there his disciples — a Vancouver TV executive, a pro hockey player from the Prairies and a teenage girl from suburban Montreal — and together they start The Stan, a new religion, and invite the world to join. When the world shows up, along with the international media and an angry long-dead spiritualist, things take an unexpected turn.
Satirical, fantastical, filled with humour and pointed observation about organized religion in the modern world, The Book of Stanley is a provocative comedy about life, love, and devotion in all its guises.
About the author
Todd Babiak is an award-winning author, journalist and screenwriter. His second novel, The Garneau Block, was a #1 regional bestseller, a longlisted title for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the winner of the City of Edmonton Book Prize. His third novel, The Book of Stanley, is in development for television. Babiak is a columnist for the Edmonton Journal and on the board of PEN Canada. Visit his website at www.toddbabiak.com.
- Short-listed, Georges Bugnet Award for Novel
Excerpt: The Book of Stanley (by (author) Todd Babiak)
The house on 77th Avenue was in a post-war subdivision three blocks from an industrial park. The park, a collection of manufacturing depots and warehouses, was bordered by car dealerships, gas stations, fast food outlets, a strip bar, and the most depressing Sheraton hotel in western Canada. From the subdivision — a collection of bungalows and semi-bungalows covered in stucco and vinyl siding — the industrial park was a constant, rumbling reminder of the blue-collar commerce that defined the city. On the uncommonly warm morning of Stanley’s visit to the palliative care specialist, Frieda was breaking the dirt in their backyard vegetable garden and cajoling him to sit on the patio and read newspaper articles aloud. One of his wife’s few superstitions: vigorous vocal exercise might just frighten cancer from the lungs.
Stanley wore his grey suit. There were others, but since he had lost weight Stanley felt insignificant and ghostly in them. It was an old suit, stitched and tailored more than two decades ago. On special days, Stanley wore it with a vest. He liked the idea of the woefully unfashionable three-piece suit, and saw it as a gentle act of rebellion in a world that no longer valued rituals and manners. Once rituals and manners were gone, at a vague date and time he associated with his own death, only blue-collar commerce and its accoutrements — snowmobiles, unnecessarily large trucks, ripped blue jeans, automatic weapons — would remain.
The story he read aloud was about Afghanistan. As he said words like Kandahar and Taliban, Stanley could not summon their meaning. It wasn’t just the names of Korean restaurants that he could not recall.
In recent weeks, whole chunks of Stanley’s memory had disappeared like dreams in the morning. One afternoon, he’d been looking at a black-white photograph of a man and a woman sitting on the shore of a lake in the Shuswaps; until Frieda commented on his parents’ youth, Stanley had assumed these were two strangers. Dead celebrities.
Since then, many of the most important events in his life had faded into shadow. The smell of barbecued meat, a show tune, a striped tie in his closet, or the bent spine of a book would inspire the fragment of a memory he knew was significant, even essential, but more and more often he couldn’t grab the whole of it.
And Frieda was beginning to suspect. She tried to trap him. At the end of the article about Afghanistan, she stood up from the hard soil, removed her gloves, and scratched at her grey-blond hair. “Remember that baseball game?” The morning of Stanley’s trip to the palliative care specialist, Frieda wore a turtleneck sweater, a jean jacket, a straw hat, and sweatpants with stripes on the side. She waved her gloves. “The night that boy from Lacombe went crazy and hit Charles on the head with the bat?”
On the patio, the newspaper rustling, Stanley remembered the summertime breeze in the Avonmore schoolyard, a warm breeze that slid in over the Rockies from the distant coast or farther, from the mysterious place where wind begins. It smelled of lilac and freshly cut grass, May trees, and leather. He remembered dogs barking in cheap apartment courtyards. Someone’s alcoholic husband playing country music out his window and yelling, “Shattap!” The chant of lawn mowers on 77th Avenue and the mosquitoes that always descended upon the diamond to collect the blood of parents. A symphony of crickets. Wheat trains piloted by lonesome and sleepy men, their horns wailing as they passed through Edmonton to cause traffic jams every hour. And crack — a hit, a single, clap, clap, clap. Was this what Frieda wanted to know? Did she want to know if he remembered parents smoking and taking nips from Pilsner cans in the late 1970s, only pretending to watch the game? Other parents, the parents who suffered their sons’ potential failures and successes before they fell asleep at night, screaming at their children, the umpire, and their saviour? The yellow and blue of the blanket Frieda wrapped around her shoulders when the sun threatened to dip beyond the houses on 81st Street?
By the look of pinched disappointment on her face, Stanley knew that no one had hit Charles over the head with a bat. If Frieda asked what he had done in his flower shop for thirty-five years, what would he say?
Stanley glanced up at the sky, which was in the midst of transformation. Dark clouds eased in to colonize the light ones, and swirled gently. There was a crackling sound above them, distant thunder. In 1987, the great tornado had passed through the city just to the east of their house, and Stanley remained haunted by the monstrous deep green of the wind that had mopped the earth and killed twenty-seven people. Just beyond those clouds, as they’d torn up the land with the sound of a crashing jet, white-blue sky of the greeting-card variety. As he looked up, Stanley was reminded of that day in 1987. The dark clouds did not appear or sound ominous at first, only odd. He thought to call out to Frieda, “Look up!” But before he had a chance, the clouds swirled and a jolt went through Stanley. There was within him a pressure so great he thought his heart had stopped — or exploded. Now he desperately wanted to summon his wife, but as the desire reached his lips it became impossible.
The sound in the sky, conversing with the soil and clay of their backyard, progressed from a crackle to a rumble to a roar. It was the roar of the natural world, finally swallowing the city and its dull commerce. But it was also a voice. One voice magnified a thousand times. It did not seem to Stanley that he was hearing the voice, exactly. There was only pain, discomfort, the urge to communicate with his wife — all of it overwhelmed by an awful feeling of his own singularity. His fears and regrets and humiliations folded at once into a flash of abandonment. Everything he had learned about death was wrong. It was not easeful or romantic. There was no release in this, no connection or understanding. This thing, whatever it was, wanted to tear him apart. A pulse of blue light filled the yard and the land underneath the back deck quivered.
He gripped the arms of his chair and searched through the light and the sound for Frieda. But she was not with him, and neither was the deck or the chair or the garden or the house on 77th Avenue. It was over.
Then it was over. The blue light and the sound and the pressure and pain went as suddenly as they had come. His backyard three blocks from an industrial park returned to him. Stanley shivered with heat and lost control of his bowels. He looked down at the newspaper, which had remained on his lap, and felt a flock of geese flying overhead. Now, finally, his body obeyed him and he called out to his wife. Before she walked over to put her arm around him and ask if he was all right, Stanley knew she would put her arm around him and ask if he was all right. He knew the precise tone of her voice, the anxiety in it that she did not want him to hear. He heard bulbs and bugs quivering under the soil.
“Something just happened.” He looked around. “My heart. Or I might be going crazy.”
“Let me help you.”
“You’ll have to check me in somewhere soon. I don’t want you changing my diapers.”
“Let’s just see what the specialist has to say.” Frieda tried to guide him out of the chair and toward the door.
“What can he say?”
Just then, the intercom at the Ford dealership beeped its introduction. “Garry, line one. Garry, line one.”
“This is what we worked so hard for.” Frieda pointed toward the Ford dealership with one hand, and their small backyard with the other. “Retirement. This.”
Stanley was not yet in the mood to go inside. He dismissed the state of his underpants and regarded the majesty of their backyard in May. The budding branches of a sick fruit tree — what fruit? — leaning toward them like a beggar. The chain-link fence on one side of the lawn and the tall cedar hedge on the other. Peeling white paint on the 1951 stucco of their slumping garage. White and brown siding on their small semi-bungalow, crying out for a spring pressure-wash. All to the tune of their neighbour’s schnauzer, Ray Ray, barking at nothing, and a Harley-Davidson rumbling across the alley. “This,” he said, and wished Ray Ray would shut up for a minute. He wished the man across the alley would shut off his Harley-Davidson.
Ray Ray stopped barking. The motorcycle went quiet. Stanley heard the man across the alley slap the bike and cuss. He cussed again. A coincidence, Stanley thought, and then, for an instant, he thought otherwise.
“The fuck’s going on here?” said the man across the alley. “How does this thing work?”
“Todd Babiak is my new favourite social satirist.”
— Toronto Star
“The neurotic high comedy of the best Woody Allen films.”
— Calgary Herald