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Favourite Reads of 2014

By Jennifer D.
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A collection of the wonderful books I read this year (includes fiction and nonfiction).
Winter Sport

Winter Sport

Poems
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian

Have you ever wondered what a luge poem or snowboarding poem or hockey poem would look like? In this collection by celebrated poet Priscila Uppal, who was the poet-in-residence for Canadian Athletes Now during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, physical and verbal acrobatics meet in a dazzling competition of risky play, inventive movements, and daring heights. Try a speed skating suit on for size, slide down the skeleton track, seek out a date with a curler, make love to a snowboarder, and p …

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Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

In Don Gillmor's comedic new novel about a troubled marriage in our monetarily troubled times, the financial delusions of the middle class run smack into the orchestrators of our financial collapse.
     In middle age, debt has become the most significant relationship in Harry Salter's life. He was born to wealthy parents in leafy and privileged Rosedale, at a time when the city was still defined by its WASP elite. But nothing in life has turned out the way Harry was led to expect. He's unsure …

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Crazy Town

Crazy Town

The Rob Ford Story
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged : political, local

His drug and alcohol-fuelled antics made world headlines and engulfed a city in unprecedented controversy. R eporter Robyn Doolittle was one of three journalists to view the video of Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine. Her dogged pursuit of the story uncovered disturbing details about the mayor’s past and shone a light on the history of substance abuse and criminal behaviour that has beset the Fords, one of the most ambitious families in Canada.

After Doolittle helped break news of a second …

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Excerpt

ONE

RESPECT

THE TAXPAYER

When the ballot boxes closed at 8 P.M., October 25, the night of Toronto’s 2010 municipal election, reporters braced themselves for a nail-biter. Polls showed the leading two candidates in a statistical tie. It looked as if George Smitherman, the former deputy premier of Ontario, had been able to rally a last-minute push for his candidacy, closing a twenty-five-point gap between himself and Toronto city councillor Rob Ford.

That Ford had gotten that far was a shock to most pundits. He was a populist with a temper, a knack for saying the wrong thing, dogmatic views about low taxes and small government, and social sensibilities that were significantly right of the norm. He was the dark horse in a crowded race, which everyone believed would ultimately be a coronation for Smitherman. But by the end of August, Ford had seemed uncatchable. Now, two months later, it looked like a dead heat.

I was at the Toronto Congress Centre, where Ford was scheduled to make his concession—or victory—speech. Hundreds, perhaps a thousand, of his supporters were jammed into the massive room, wearing campaign buttons and T-shirts, waving Canadian flags and “Ford for Mayor” placards. All eyes were fixed on the two giant screens that flanked the stage, tuned to the local news. Four minutes after the polls closed, Ford votes were at 31,000. Smitherman, 19,000. The crowd cheered and clapped and blew train whistles—a reference to Ford’s campaign pledge to “stop the gravy train” at City Hall. The councillor was off to a good start. But it was still early—or so I thought.

At 8:08 P.M.—eight minutes in—CP24 television network was calling it. Rob Ford would be Toronto’s next mayor. It hadn’t been close at all. The Congress Centre exploded. The screens cut to footage of Ford learning the news. He’d been watching at his mother’s home, surrounded by family, some staff, and select media. Sitting on the couch beside his wife, Renata, Ford nervously rubbed his knees while the numbers rolled in. When the projection was made, he looked shocked. Everyone jumped to their feet in celebration. Ford hugged and kissed Renata. The premier phoned to congratulate him. Then outgoing mayor David Miller. Then Smitherman.

A little more than an hour later, Ford arrived at the Congress Centre. He was mobbed like a rock star as he pushed through the crowd. People chanted his name and jostled each other trying to snap his photo. He climbed up on stage to uproarious applause. People chanted “Ford! Ford! Ford!” A supporter draped a Hawaiian lei around his neck.

Standing at the podium, Ford grinned, taking in the scene.

“Tonight,” he began, “the people of Toronto are not divided. We are united. We are united all around this call for change. If you voted for me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You voted for change at City Hall. You trusted me, and I will live up to your expectations—guaranteed. Four years, four years from tonight, you’ll look back and say, Rob Ford did exactly what he said he was going to do.”

He congratulated George Smitherman on a hard-fought campaign, and when some in the crowd began to boo, he admonished them. He said he looked forward to working with Smitherman and the other candidates in the future.

“To the people that didn’t vote for me, I will work hard to earn your trust. And I will deliver change that you can be proud of,” Ford said to more applause.

What kind of change? He would abolish unnecessary taxes. Cut councillor expense accounts. Make customer service a priority. And get tough with the public-sector unions on the city payroll.

“The party with taxpayers’ money is over, ladies and gentlemen. We will respect the taxpayers again. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, we will stop the gravy train, once and for all.”

WHEN I WAS SHUFFLED to the City Hall bureau from the police beat in 2010, I wasn’t sure if I was being punished. My city editor sold it as something of a promotion. I was young and energetic. Exactly what the paper needed down there, he told me enthusiastically, larding the pitch with compliments about the work I’d done the last two years covering crime. As I envisioned long days of boring committee meetings and agendas and debates about sidewalk widths and tree removal, I boxed up the contents of my office at Police Headquarters and began the grieving process. I thought my days chasing criminals were over.

It was January 2010, and the long municipal election campaign was just getting under way. In those early days, everybody thought Ontario’s cranky and openly gay former deputy premier George Smitherman, a.k.a. Furious George, was the easy winner. Up until he quit the provincial Liberal government to run for mayor, Smitherman had been the second most powerful man in Ontario politics. Now he was counting on the fact that Toronto was a liberal city. Not a single Conservative— federal or provincial—had been elected within its borders since 1999. Smitherman had name recognition, a willing electorate, and the keys to a first-class political machine. His only competition was the young hotshot chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), Councillor Adam Giambrone.

Giambrone was thirty-two, smart, hard-working, a devoted activist, and the successor-of-choice for retiring mayor David Miller. But hubris got the better of him before he even got started. In a profile interview for the Toronto Star, Giambrone insinuated he was married, which really upset another young woman, the one he had been dating and entertaining on his City Hall office couch. She contacted the Star, claiming Giambrone had promised her that his other relationship was just for appearances, so he’d look more established. (In fact Giambrone wasn’t married, despite what he’d told the Star.) Giambrone’s campaign collapsed, less than two weeks after he announced his candidacy. Once that happened, it looked like the only threat to Smitherman’s victory would be if popular conservative radio host John Tory jumped into the race.

Tory, a former business executive, had run for mayor in 2003 and narrowly lost to David Miller. Afterwards, he switched to provincial politics and became leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park. Tory is a fiscal conservative with liberal values, a well-spoken businessman with a strong social conscience. In Toronto, John Tory is beloved—at least until his name hits the ballot. In 2007, Tory led his party to a disastrous showing in the provincial election after he suggested Ontario taxpayers should be subsidizing all faith-based schools—Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, etc.—since the province funded Catholic ones. Voters revolted. Tory never got beyond Opposition leader. In 2009 he moved to talk radio, which only made him more popular. Every day, callers, political strategists, and city councillors were begging him to take another shot at the mayoralty. On January 7, 2010, Tory held a press conference in the Newstalk 1010 radio station lobby. He would not be running for mayor. He cited the polarized political climate, the eagerness for some to go negative. He wanted to continue to make a contribution to the community— but outside of the political arena.

With that announcement, it seemed that the 2010 municipal election was George Smitherman’s to lose.

I’d been on the job two months when Rob Ford, the beefy conservative councillor from Toronto’s suburban west end, announced his candidacy for mayor. Like most people in Toronto, I’d heard—and watched on YouTube several times— Ford’s speech at city council in which he said “Oriental people work like dogs.” I’d read about the Maple Leafs game, when he’d been escorted from the arena by security guards after drunkenly berating a couple in the crowd. And I was the Toronto Star police reporter when Ford had been briefly charged with domestic assault. Other than that, I best knew Ford as the councillor to call if I needed an angry quote about a left-leaning policy.

Did I think Rob Ford could be mayor? It seemed like a pipe dream.

The current chief magistrate was a Harvard-educated, thoughtful environmentalist who delighted in developing and debating policy. The contrast between David Miller and Rob Ford was almost comically stark.

At fifty-one, David Miller was tall and fit, with a full head of thick ashy-blond hair. He loved to pontificate in a deep authoritative voice, talking about “city building” and “civic engagement.” To a lot of people, Miller came across as arrogant. He was a proud progressive who fed tax dollars into cycling infrastructure, social programs, and the arts. Miller posed in black leather on the front of Toronto’s premier gay magazine, fab, before the city’s annual gay pride festival.

And then there was Ford.

Ford was big. Three-hundred-and-something pounds big. His bulging two-tiered chin pushed outward and upward, jutting out his bottom lip in a way that always made it seem as if he was sneering. Ford was a fanatical right-winger who vehemently opposed community grants, green initiatives, and funding anything cultural. He devoted most of his energy to four issues: slashing office budgets for councillors; battling against community grants; doing away with perks like free food at council meetings; and firing the people in charge of watering the plants in city buildings. “At home, we water our own plants, unless you have a butler or something,” he once told council.

But there was another big difference between David Miller and Rob Ford, and it would cast each in the role of champion for one of Toronto’s two warring factions—the downtowners and the suburbanites.

In 2009, Toronto celebrated its 175th anniversary. We were a city before Canada was a country. But the Toronto we know today was a drastically different place as recently as 1997. Back then, the region was divided into six municipalities, including the much smaller old City of Toronto, the borough of East York, and four mini-cities: Etobicoke to the west, York, North York, and Scarborough in the east. Each had its own local government with its own mayor, but there was also an overarching regional body to manage issues like policing, which was headed by a chairman. This two-tiered system is how Metropolitan Toronto had been governed for four decades. But in 1997— despite intense public backlash—Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris’s provincial government voted to dissolve the five cities and one borough to form a “megacity” of close to 2.4 million residents as of January 1, 1998. The move was supposed to save money by removing duplication. Why have six finance offices when you could have one? Academics have since concluded that amalgamation was a financial failure. What it did do was drastically alter the political landscape.

Compared with people living outside Toronto’s core, downtown dwellers are more likely to rely on public transit and bicycles than cars, more likely to live in a high-rise than a house, and tend to be more liberal. It’s not surprising that these two groups, urban and suburban, have different expectations of their local government. Someone in a condo is naturally less invested in Toronto’s leaf-collection program than someone from Etobicoke who lives in a house with big trees in the yard. And it only makes sense that that Etobicoke resident cares much less about a multi-million-dollar renovation to a public square in downtown Toronto than someone who lives in a high-rise across the street. This matters at election time, because the residents of the old City of Toronto—which at the time of amalgamation had just over 650,000 residents—are greatly outnumbered. The suburbs account for three-quarters of Toronto’s current 2.8 million population.

In Rob Ford’s perfect world, a city should have wellmaintained roads free of cyclists, streetcars, and gridlock; running water; working lights; punctual, privately operated garbage collection; a well-staffed police service; and as few taxes as possible. It’s not hard to understand why this philosophy proved popular in Toronto’s suburban neighbourhoods. Why should they subsidize the Toronto International Film Festival, or the National Ballet of Canada, or the Canadian Opera Company when the people actually going to these things, all decked out in their fancy clothes, had money to burn? The downtowners, the original City of Toronto people, could wax poetic about the economic benefits of arts funding—how the return on every dollar could be leveraged to create seventeen additional dollars, how a vibrant cultural sector attracted tourists, packed restaurants, filled hotels, and got people out shopping—but in the suburbs, that all just sounded like elitist malarkey.

Remember, by the summer and fall of 2010, while much of Canada had dug itself out of economic recession, Toronto had not. Many were still out of work and scared. Unemployment was at 10.36 percent, well above the national average of 8 percent. Bankruptcies in and around Toronto were nearly triple the rate elsewhere in Canada. So when Rob Ford vowed to cut taxes without reducing services, by ending the “gravy train,” people wanted to believe him. And why not? He had been beating that drum his entire career. “Toronto has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” he used to say.

Ford’s colleagues might have regarded him as an inarticulate bumbler who was always losing his temper, but the people who lived in his ward adored him. They loved his crusade against spending. Sure, weighed against a nine-billion-dollar operating budget, a free dinner seemed like small potatoes, but if councillors were wasting money where people could see it, what were they doing behind closed doors? Most significantly, Ford’s constituents loved how accessible he was. Ford had a reputation for personally returning residents’ phone calls, listening to their complaints, and then showing up at their door with an entourage of bureaucrats to fix a problem that would otherwise have been strangled in red tape. Councillor Ford was so good at his constituent work that people living outside of his ward started calling. So he began helping them too. It was a practice that vexed other councillors. Eventually some complained to the integrity commissioner about it, which merely strengthened the perception in some parts of Toronto that hard-working Ford was the only sane person in office. Over his ten years on council, one phone call at a time, Ford built his base of support, a group that has come to be known as Ford Nation. They’re fiercely loyal, standing by their man through every storm.

And there have been many storms to weather. There was the time in 2002 when councillors heard him call an Italian colleague a “Gino boy.” In 2005, in a disagreement about potholes, he told a councillor she was “a waste of skin.” When Ford opposed spending $1.5 million on AIDS prevention, he rationalized, “If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS, probably.” Then in 2006 Ford was dragged out of that Toronto Maple Leafs game by security guards after unleashing a drunken diatribe on a couple sitting nearby. It started when the man asked Ford to quiet down. Ford turned to him: “Who the fuck do you think you are? … Are you a fucking teacher?” Then he looked to the man’s wife. “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?” When reporters followed up, Ford initially claimed he wasn’t even at the game, apparently forgetting he’d been handing out his City Hall business cards. (This would become Ford’s play of choice in a crisis: lie and deny until someone can provide physical proof.) Most seriously, in 2008, Ford was arrested for domestic assault and uttering a death threat against his wife. The charge was dropped due to inconsistencies in Renata Ford’s testimony. When the press came knocking, Ford answered the door carrying his three-year-old daughter. He coached her to say “No comment.” That wouldn’t be the last time Ford enlisted the help of his children in times of trouble.

And yet with every scandal, Ford emerged stronger. More human. More relatable.

On March 25, 2010, the longshot Rob Ford declared his candidacy for mayor. Within three weeks, he was in second place. “Rob Ford has reshuffled the deck,” Jodi Shanoff, senior vice-president of polling firm Angus Reid, told the Star. “Depending on what he has to say and, frankly, how he deals with the attacks that undoubtedly are coming from Smitherman … those can either expose him for the not-so-serious candidate that the Toronto Life crowd takes him to be, or he can rise to the challenge and really galvanize his spot as a serious contender.”

Even as a candidate for mayor, Ford radiated controversy. During his campaign, news surfaced that in 1999 he’d been charged with drunk driving and marijuana possession while on vacation in Florida. When confronted, Ford denied it. But once it was obvious that the reporter had access to at least some of the arrest paperwork, Ford apologized and claimed he’d forgotten about it. He held a press conference the next day and announced he had indeed been charged—with failing to provide a breath sample. That statement was also untrue—he was convicted of drunk driving—and the newspapers pointed it out. The public’s reaction? Ford got a 10-point bump in the polls. “The phone would not stop ringing that day,” recalls Stefano Pileggi, fundraising manager for the Ford campaign. “People calling in: ‘We don’t care, Rob. We love you!’ It was incredible.”

When the Toronto Star revealed that in 2001 Ford had been banned from coaching football at a Toronto high school following a heated altercation with a player, he supposedly raised close to twenty-five thousand dollars overnight in campaign donations. When Ford suggested that Toronto close its doors to immigrants until it could fix its current citizens’ problems, his office was inundated with calls of support, including from immigrants already here. Meanwhile, former frontrunner George Smitherman was blowing it. His campaign stood for nothing. To voters, he came across as angry and entitled. The Smitherman platform seemed to be built on one thing: he wasn’t Rob Ford.

By mid-June, Ford was tied for first. And the momentum continued. He took the lead in August and stayed there until election night. The polls were barely closed before the TV networks announced that Rob Ford would be Toronto’s sixtyfourth mayor. A little over half of the city’s eligible voters had cast a ballot, and 47 percent of them ticked off Ford’s name. The penny-pincher from Etobicoke hadn’t just won, he had crushed the competition. Ford finished with 383,501 votes, nearly 100,000 more than sure-thing Smitherman. Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone—who had parachuted in as the progressive candidate after Giambrone’s implosion—came in a distant third. Ford won thirty-one of forty-four wards, including every one of the pre-amalgamation suburbs. And while the old City of Toronto electorate stuck with Smitherman, they did it while holding their noses. In fact, Ford had significant support in the land of lattes. The true geographic downtowners went 60 percent Smitherman. But in plenty of old Toronto neighbourhoods, such as Parkdale–High Park, Toronto-Danforth, and Davenport, Ford scooped up more than a third of the vote.

His victory left residents of Toronto’s core stunned. In those first days after the election, the confusion was everywhere. On the streetcar heading to work, in line at Starbucks, at the bank, the flower shop, the grocery store, the pub. The most discombobulated were staggering around the corridors of City Hall. One prominent Toronto politics professor sent me a note of apology, having dismissively brushed off my suggestion a month earlier that Ford would win. It was as if a giant protective bubble containing everyone who lived within fifteen kilometres of the CN Tower had been popped.

What it meant to be a “Torontonian” was no longer clear. Three years later—with Ford known the world over as the mayor whose approval rating stayed unchanged after he admitted to smoking crack cocaine—it was even less apparent.

What follows is the story of Rob Ford’s improbable rise to one of the most powerful jobs in Canada. It’s the story of how the mayor of Toronto found himself ensnared in a scandal so surreal, half of the city couldn’t believe it—a scandal with drugs, lies, an attempted cover-up, and extortion, which captivated the globe for weeks. It’s the story of a complicated family, wealthy and secretive, with boundless ambition and a sincere belief that its members are destined to lead this country. It’s the story of sibling rivalry, an obsession with loyalty, and the never-ending struggle for a demanding father’s approval.

A public figure’s family life should ideally be private, but in this book it will be impossible to avoid talking about Ford’s family. He is who he is because of them. His political philosophy, his strategy in a crisis, his feelings about money, his compulsion to keep dirty laundry hidden—all can be explored through the lens of a fascinating family dynamic. These seeds were all planted on a quiet leafy street in Etobicoke.

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All My Puny Sorrows

All My Puny Sorrows

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback Paperback

SHORTLISTED 2014 – Scotiabank Giller Prize
Miriam Toews is beloved for her irresistible voice, for mingling laughter and heartwrenching poignancy like no other writer. In her most passionate novel yet, she brings us the riveting story of two sisters, and a love that illuminates life.
 
You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as …

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Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

LONGLISTED 2014 – Scotiabank Giller Prize
From the author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Valmiki’s Daughter, both nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, comes a haunting and courageous new novel. Written in vibrant, supple prose that vividly conjures both the tropical landscape of Trinidad and the muted winter cityscape of Toronto, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a passionate eulogy to a beloved parent, and a nuanced, moving tale about the struggle to embrace the complex realities …

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The Lobster Kings

The Lobster Kings

edition:Paperback

From the internationally acclaimed author of Touch, praised as "an arresting debut" (National Post) and "a haunting, beguiling and beautifully imagined story" (Winnipeg Free Press), comes a powerful family saga steeped in the legends of the ocean.

The Kings family has lived on Loosewood Island for three hundred years, blessed with the bounty of the sea. But for the Kings, this blessing comes with a curse: the loss of every first-born son. Now, Woody Kings, the leader of the island's lobster fishi …

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The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists

A Novel
edition:Paperback

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman's wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it - and themselves - afloat.

Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff's personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kat …

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Excerpt

"Bush Slumps to New Low in Polls" 

  Paris Correspondent-Lloyd Burko  

Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks. He steadies himself on the knob and shuts his eyes. Chill air rushes under the door; he curls his toes. But the hallway is silent. Only high-heeled clicks from the floor above. A shutter squeaking on the other side of the courtyard. His own breath, whistling in his nostrils, whistling out.  

Faintly, a woman's voice drifts in. He clenches his eyelids tighter, as if to drive up the volume, but makes out only murmurs, a breakfast exchange between the woman and the man in the apartment across the hall. Until, abruptly, their door opens: her voice grows louder, the hallway floorboards creak-she is approaching. Lloyd hustles back, unlatches the window above the courtyard, and takes up a position there, gazing out over his corner of Paris.   She taps on his front door.  

"Come in," he says. "No need to knock." And his wife enters their apartment for the first time since the night before.   He does not turn from the window to face Eileen, only presses his bald knees harder into the iron guardrail. She smoothes down the back of his gray hair. He flinches, surprised to be touched.  

"Only me," she says.  

He smiles, eyes crinkling, lips parting, inhaling as if to speak. But he has no reply. She lets go.  

He turns finally to find her seated before the drawer where they keep old photographs. A kitchen towel hangs from her shoulder and she wipes off her fingers, damp from peeled potatoes, dishwashing liquid, diced onions, scented from mothballed blankets, soil from the window boxes-Eileen is a woman who touches everything, tastes all, digs in. She slips on her reading glasses.  

"What are you hunting for in there?" he asks.  

"Just a picture of me in Vermont when I was little. To show Didier." She rises, taking a photo album with her, and stands by the front door. "You have plans for dinner, right?" 

  "Mm." He nods at the album. "Bit by bit," he says.  

"What's that mean?" 

  "You're shifting across the hall." 

  "No."  

 "You're allowed to."  

He hasn't resisted her friendship with Didier, the man across the hall. She is not finished with that part of her life, with sex, as Lloyd is. She is eighteen years younger, a gap that incited him once but that, now he is seventy, separates them like a lake. He blows her a kiss and returns to the window.  

The floorboards in the hallway creak. Didier's front door opens and shuts-Eileen doesn't knock over there, just goes in.   Lloyd glances at the phone. It has been weeks since he sold an article and he needs money. He dials the paper in Rome.  

An intern transfers him to the news editor, Craig Menzies, a balding worrier who decides much of what appears in each edition. No matter the time of day, Menzies is at his desk. The man has nothing in his life but news.  

"Good time for a pitch?" Lloyd asks.  

"I'm a tad busy, actually. Could you zing me an e-mail?" 

  "Can't. Problem with my computer." The problem is that he doesn't own one; Lloyd still uses a word processor, vintage 1993. "I can print something and fax it over."

   "Tell me by phone. But please, if possible, could you get your computer working?"  

"Yes: get computer fixed. Duly noted." He scratches his finger across the notepad, as if to tease out a better idea than the one scrawled there. "You folks interested in a feature on the ortolan? It's this French delicacy, a bird-a sort of finch, I think-that's illegal to sell here. They stick it in a cage, poke out its eyes so it can't tell day from night, then feed it round the clock. When it's full up, they drown it in Cognac and cook it. Mitterrand ate one for his last meal."   "Uh-huh," Menzies responds circumspectly. "But sorry, where's the news?" 

  "No news. Just a feature."  

"You have anything else?"  

 Lloyd scratches at his pad again. "How about a business piece on wine: sales of rosé outstripping white for the first time in France." 

  "Is that true?"  

"I think so. I still have to double-check."  

"Do you have anything more timely?"  

"You don't want the ortolan?" 

  "I don't think we have space for it. It's a tight day-four pages in news."  

All the other publications Lloyd freelanced for have dumped him. Now he suspects that the paper-his final string, his last employer-is looking to send him away, too.  

"You know our money problems, Lloyd. We're only buying freelance stuff that's jaw-dropping these days. Which isn't saying yours isn't good. I just mean Kathleen only wants enterprise now. Terrorism, nuclear Iran, resurgent Russia-that kind of thing. Anything else we basically take from the wires. It's a money thing, not about you." 

  Lloyd hangs up and returns to the window, gazing out at Sixth Arrondissement apartment buildings, white walls dirtied where rain drizzled and drainpipes leaked, the paint peeling, shutters closed tight, courtyards below where residents' bicycles huddle, handlebars and pedals and spokes jammed into each other, zinc roofs overhead, capped chimney pipes streaking white smoke across white sky. 

  He walks over to the closed front door and stands still, listening. She might come back from Didier's unbidden. This is their home, for Christ's sake.  

When the dinner hour arrives, he bangs about as clamorously as possible, crashing the door into the coatrack, simulating a coughing fit on his way out, all to ensure that Eileen across the hall hears him leaving for his supposed dinner plans, although no such plans exist. He simply will not sit down for another charity meal with her and Didier.   He wanders down Boulevard du Montparnasse to kill time, buys a box of calissons to give to his daughter Charlotte, and returns home, as stealthy now as he was noisy before. When he enters the apartment, he raises the front door on its hinges to dull the squeak, clicks it gently shut. He doesn't turn on the main light-Eileen might see it under the door-and fumbles in the kitchen, leaving the fridge ajar for illumination. He opens a can of chickpeas and digs straight in with a fork, catching sight of his right hand, which is mottled with age spots. He switches the fork to his left hand, the decrepit right thrust deep in his trouser pocket, hugging a thin leather wallet.

   Been broke plenty of times. Always spent better than he saved. On tailored shirts from Jermyn Street. Cases of Château Gloria 1971. Shares in a racehorse that almost landed in the money. Impromptu vacations to Brazil with impromptu women. Taxis everywhere. He takes another fork of chickpeas. Salt. Needs salt. He drops a pinch into the can. 

  At dawn, he lies under layers of blankets and bedcovers-he doesn't use the heating anymore unless Eileen is here. He'll visit Charlotte today, but doesn't relish it. He turns on his other side, as if to flip from her to his son, Jérôme. Sweet kid. Lloyd flips again. So awake, so weary. Lazy-he's become lazy. How did that happen?  

He forces off the covers and, shivering in his underwear and socks, makes for his desk. He pores over old phone numbers-hundreds of scraps of paper, stapled, taped, glued in place. Too early to call anyone. He grins at names of former colleagues: the editor who cursed him out for missing the first Paris riots in '68 because he had been drunk in the bathtub with a lady friend. Or the bureau chief who flew him to Lisbon to cover the coup in '74, even though he couldn't speak a word of Portuguese. Or the reporter who got the giggles with Lloyd at a Giscard d'Estaing presser until they were flung out and upbraided by the press secretary. How many of these ancient numbers still work?  

The living-room curtains brighten gradually from behind. He parts them. The sun is not visible, nor clouds-only buildings. At least Eileen doesn't realize his money situation. If she found out, she'd try to help. And then what would he have left?   He opens the window, breathes in, presses his knees into the guardrail. The grandeur of Paris-its tallness and broadness and hardness and softness, its perfect symmetry, human will imposed on stone, on razored lawns, on the disobedient rosebushes-that Paris resides elsewhere. His own is smaller, containing himself, this window, the floorboards that creak across the hall.  

By 9 a.m., he is trooping north through the Luxembourg Gardens. By the Palais de Justice, he rests. Flagging already? Lazy bastard. He forces himself onward, over the Seine, up Rue Montorgueil, past the Grands Boulevards.  

Charlotte's shop is on Rue Rochechouart-not too high up the hill, thankfully. The store isn't open yet, so he wanders toward a café, then changes his mind at the door-no money to waste on luxuries. He gazes in the window of his daughter's shop, which is full of handmade hats, designed by Charlotte and produced by a team of young women in high-waisted linen aprons and mobcaps, like eighteenth-century maids.   She arrives later than the posted opening time. "Oui?" she says upon seeing her father-she only talks to him in French.  

"I was admiring your window," he says. "It's beautifully arranged."

   She unlocks the shop and enters. "Why are you wearing a tie? Do you have somewhere to go?"  

"Here-I was coming here to see you." He hands her the box of candies. "Some calissons."  

"I don't eat those."

   "I thought you loved them."  

"Not me. Brigitte does." This is her mother, the second of Lloyd's ex-wives.  

"Could you give them to her?"  

"She won't want anything from you."

   "You're so angry with me, Charlie."  

She marches to the other side of the shop, tidying as if it were combat. A customer enters and Charlotte puts on a smile. Lloyd removes himself to a corner. The customer leaves and Charlotte resumes her pugilistic dusting.   "Did I do something wrong?" he asks.  

"My God-you are so egocentric."  

He peers into the back of the shop.  

"They're not here yet," she snaps.  

"Who aren't?"  

"The girls."  

"Your workers? Why are you telling me that?"  

"You got here too early. Bad timing." Charlotte claims that Lloyd has pursued every woman she ever introduced him to, starting with her best friend at lycée, Nathalie, who came along for a vacation to Antibes once and lost her bikini top in the waves. Charlotte caught Lloyd watching. Thankfully, she never learned that matters eventually went much further between her father and Nathalie.  

But all that is over. Finished, finally. So senseless in retrospect-such effort wasted. Libido: it has been the tyrant of his times, hurling him from comfortable America all those years ago to sinful Europe for adventure and conquest, marrying him four times, tripping him up a hundred more, distracting and degrading and nearly ruining him. Yet now it is mercifully done with, desire having dwindled these past years, as mysterious in departure as it was on arrival. For the first time since age twelve, Lloyd witnesses the world without motive. And he is quite lost.  

"You really don't like the candies?" he says. 

  "I didn't ask for them."

   "No, you didn't." He smiles sadly. "Is there something I could do for you, though?"  

"What for?"  

"To help."  

"I don't want your help."  

"All right," he says. "All right, then." He nods, sighs, and turns for the door.  

She comes out after him. He reaches to touch her arm, but she pulls away. She hands back the box of calissons. "I'm not going to use these."  

Back home, he runs through his contact numbers and ends up calling an old reporter buddy, Ken Lazzarino, now working at a magazine in Manhattan. They exchange news and get nostalgic for a few minutes, but an undercurrent runs through the conversation: both men know that Lloyd needs a favor, but he can't bring himself to ask. Finally, he forces it out. "What if I wanted to pitch something?"  

"You never wrote for us, Lloyd." 

  "I know, I'm just wondering if."  

"I do online strategy now-I don't have a say in content anymore."  

"Is there someone you could get me in touch with?"  

After listening to several variations of no, Lloyd puts down the phone.  

He eats another can of chickpeas and tries Menzies again at the paper. "What about me doing the European business roundup today?"  

"Hardy Benjamin handles that now."  

"I know it's a pain for you guys that I don't have this email stuff working. I can fax it, though. It won't make a difference."  

"It does, actually. But look, I'll call if we need something out of Paris. Or give me a ring if you have something newsy."  

Lloyd opens a French current-affairs magazine in hopes of stealing a story idea. He flips the pages impatiently-he doesn't recognize half the names. Who the hell is that guy in the photo? He used to know everything going on in this country. At press conferences, he was front-row, arm raised, rushing up afterward to pitch questions from the sidelines. At embassy cocktail parties, he sidled up to the ambassadors with a grin, notebook emerging from his hip pocket. Nowadays, if he attends press conferences at all, he's back-row, doodling, dozing. Embossed invitations pile up on his coffee table. Scoops, big and little, pass him by. He still has smarts enough to produce the obvious pieces-those he can do drunk, eyelids closed, in his underwear at the word processor.

   He tosses the current-affairs magazine onto a chair. What's the point in trying? He calls his son's mobile. "Am I waking you?" he asks in French, the language they use together.

   Jérôme covers the phone and coughs. 

  "I was hoping to buy you lunch later," Lloyd says. "Shouldn't you be down at the ministry at this hour?"  

But Jérôme has the day off, so they agree to meet at a bistro around Place de Clichy, which is near where the young man lives, though the precise location of Jérôme's home is as much a mystery to Lloyd as are the details of the young man's job at the French foreign ministry. The boy is secretive.  

Lloyd arrives at the bistro early to check the prices on the menu. He opens his wallet to count the cash, then takes a table. 

  When Jérôme walks in, Lloyd stands and smiles. "I'd almost forgotten how fond I am of you."

   Jérôme sits quickly, as if caught out in musical chairs. "You're strange."  

"Yes. It's true."  

Jérôme flaps out the napkin and runs a hand through his floppy locks, leaving tangled tents of hair. His mother, Françoise, a tobacco-fingered stage actress, had the same hair-mussing habit and it made her even more attractive until years later, when she had no work, and it made her disheveled. Jérôme, at twenty-eight, is tattered already, dressed as if by a vintage shop, in a velvet blazer whose sleeves stop halfway up his forearms and an over-tight pin-striped shirt, cigarette rolling papers visible through a rip in the breast pocket.  

"Let me buy you a shirt," Lloyd says impulsively. "You need a proper shirt. We'll go down to Hilditch & Key, down on Rivoli. We'll take a taxi. Come on." He speaks rashly-he couldn't afford a new shirt. But Jérôme declines.

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Penguin Modern Classics Fifth Business

Penguin Modern Classics Fifth Business

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of car …

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