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Biography & Autobiography Editors, Journalists, Publishers

The Closer We Are to Dying

by (author) Joe Fiorito

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Sep 2000
Editors, Journalists, Publishers, Essays, Cultural Heritage
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2000
    List Price

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The Closer We Are to Dying is newspaper columnist Joe Fiorito’s spectacular debut as a book writer. A natural story-teller, Fiorito’s extraordinary talent is revealed in prose that is spare, tough, and tender. In this memoir of his family, he writes with a full heart, wielding language like a knife.

In the 1950s in Fort William, Ontario, when Joe Fiorito was growing up, it was wrong to be poor and Italian, and risky to be bookish – and he was all of these. He was also marked as a member of a lively and infamous clan. Strangers could size him up at a glance and tell he was a Fiorito; Dusty’s boy.

Everyone knew Dusty. He was handsome and hard and hot-tempered. He was a man his son loved and loathed with equal fervour. And it is Dusty who occupies the heart of this book.

A letter carrier, a small-town trombonist and occasional crooner, a heavy drinker, Dusty was both the keeper and maker of the family’s many stories. At the end of his life, as Dusty lay dying in hospital, Joe sat with him at nights, listening one last time to the family legends, now burnished to a perfect lustre by repeated tellings – stories too fantastic to be fiction, too pointed to be entirely true. Stories narrated in exquisite style in The Closer We Are to Dying.

Fiorito’s striking talent is revealed both in his laconic prose and superlative story-telling, and in the affection and empathy of his vision. The Closer We Are to Dying is a beautiful reminder that while only the powerful are remembered in the history books, the lives of the powerless can also be the stuff of enduring myths.

About the author

Joe Fiorito was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario. As a young man in Northern Ontario, he worked in a paper mill, surveyed roads, and laboured in bush camps prior to becoming involved in community development and arts consulting. Fiorito spent five years working with a staff of Inuit journalists at CBC Radio in Iqaluit, NWT before transferring to Regina, where he wrote, produced and directed CBC Radio's highly acclaimed "The Food Show," a weekly program about food and agriculture. Fiorito lived for many years in Montreal, where he first wrote a weekly food column for HOUR, and later signed on as a city columnist for The Montreal Gazette. His first collection, Comfort Me with Apples: Considering the Pleasures of the Table, a series of essays about food and memory drawn from Fiorito's HOUR columns,  was published by Nuage Editions (now Signature Editions) in 1994. In 2000, it was  reissued by McLelland & Stewart. Tango on the Main, Fiorito's second collection, was selected from his Gazette columns.Fiorito relocated to Toronto, writing first for The National Post and then for The Toronto Star. In 1999, he published his family memoir, The Closer We Are to Dying (M&S), which became a national best-seller and received widespread critical acclaim. This was followed by the award-winning novel The Song Beneath the Ice (M&S, 2003) and Union Station: Love, Madness, Sex and Survival on the Streets of the New Toronto. (M&S, 2007).

Joe Fiorito's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“A small, quiet masterpiece.”
The Times, (U.K.)

“Fiorito has all the right stuff. His splendid memoir about his relationship with his dying father belongs on that small shelf with Philip Roth’s Patrimony and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.”
–Mordecai Richler

“…like a non-fiction One Hundred Years of Solitude. Fiorito proves himself a storyteller of remarkable gifts: there’s an aura of dignity and beauty over events, sometimes terrible, sometimes tender.”

“Joe Fiorito writes like a rough-hewn angel. This meditation at the bedside of his dying father blossoms into a lavish bouquet of family stories that speak volumes about the power of myth to tell us who we are.”
Globe and Mail

“Remarkable.…In language that is clear, precise, and often searingly direct, Fiorito tells the story of the man, the family, and the city without romanticizing or damning any of them.”
National Post

“It is [Fiorito’s] electric imagination which lights up the book, each story rendered in a nearly faultless prose. Fiorito is a disciple of what Cyril Connolly termed ‘the plain style,’ simple, stripped-down language capable of achieving an austere poetry.”
–Montreal Gazette

“…moving and funny and beautifully written.…The world needs more books by Joe Fiorito.”
The Spectator

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