In Milocz, her latest work of fiction, Beach writer Cordelia Strube has written her first comic novel, in the tradition of John Irving, where comedy and tragedy are so intertwined that the reader is caught off guard by both.
The lead character, Milocz Krupanski, has changed his name to Milo Kruppi, a name that is constantly mis-heard and repeated as Crappy. He is an itinerant actor who, for reasons that even he can’t understand, has become den mother to a motley group of people that includes a Cuban lothario who can’t keep his shirt on, a junk collector whose mother thinks he is an accountant, and the mother, who just wants grandchildren. Next door to Milo live a young couple who are separating because of disagreements over the treatment of their autistic child. And apparently somewhere in a Toronto nursing home is Milo’s father, whom Milo thought long dead after he abandoned him years previous. In fact, Milo is living in his father’s house.
The novel plays out as a series of vignettes as Milo makes his way through life, dealing with these characters in ways that make the reader feel they are watching an extended television sitcom, or reality show. There is a dinner party where Milo has invited a young artist friend over to play-act as the junk collector’s girlfriend. Things go well until the Cuban arrives and sweeps her off her feet. Even though he knows full well it is only an act, Wally – the junk collector – gets insanely jealous. And his mother is not getting it at all. Then there is a situation where Milo and his autistic neighbour end up sleeping rough in a makeshift shelter in the ravine. Things are going well, until the police show up and get the wrong idea.
Milo struggles to get acting jobs, his agent growing increasingly worried that he is lacking in professionalism. The auditions get stranger and stranger until Milo, who recalling his father’s torment during the war, finds himself taking a role as a sadistic Nazi guard at a concentration camp…and doing well at it.
Milo’s awkward dealings with his troubled neighbours, especially their 11-year-old autistic son, for whom Milo fashions himself as protector, role model and surrogate father, go from bad to worse. He can’t seem to make them understand how much he loves the boy, how much he wants to help with his care, and how much he values the couple’s relationship.
When Milo’s agent describes his newly-rumpled look as The Everyman, Milocz as a novel takes on a more symbolic tone. The struggling actor could be any one of us as he juggles a tenuous career and a personal life that, if we had to acknowledge it, is no less strange that our own. Milo himself finally has to acknowledge that “What goes through [his] mind in his moments of aloneness are concerns about what’s going through other people’s minds…”
Milocz is Strube’s ninth novel. I will say now that this is her most accessible one to date, but I have said that about each one I have reviewed. Recently she took part in the Toronto Public Library’s reading series at Taylor Memorial Library. Those in attendance were laughing out loud during her reading, as she assumed the accents of each one of the characters above. Strube then recalled her own experiences as a budding actor, and it became obvious that she has inflicted Milo with many of them. You will laugh – and cry – reading about them. Milocz is published by Coach House Press, and is available at finer book stores.
In an earlier edition of Beach Metro News, we ran a story about Heather Young and her horse Norman. Norman is a former race horse that Heather adopted who, due to a serious eye infection, ended up having his eye removed. The story is made all the more heartwarming because of Young’s determination to help with Norman’s rehabilitation rather than see her cherished ‘pet’ euthanized. At the end of the piece, Young mentioned her plans to write a children’s book about Norman’s ordeal – and she has.
Norman has been published just in time for the holiday gift-giving season. Beautifully written by Young, and vividly illustrated by Ramir Quintana, Norman stays true to the real-life story it is based on. Young has named herself Prudence in the book, but Norman remains the star.
Prudence is one of the many children who take riding lessons at the farm where Norman spends his days. She has grown fond of Norman, and he looks forward to her visits. When his eye becomes infected and has to be removed, Norman worries that Prudence will chose to ride one of the other horses that can still jump. Determined to regain his earlier form – and win back Prudence’s faith in him – Norman spends his days by himself in the fields, regaining his balance and learning to jump all over again. When Prudence arrives later that week, both she and her favourite horse are in for a delightful surprise. Norman is a book about perseverance in times of trouble, and trust in your friends.
Young is donating portions of the proceeds from the sales of Norman to two horse organizations. Heaven Can Wait Equine Rescue (heavencanwaitequinerescue.org), established in 1997 to find new homes for horses and ponies and save them from slaughter, is where Young found the real-life Norman. LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society (longrunretirement.com) provides retired race horses with a dignified retirement, through fostering, rehabilitating, and retraining.
Pick up a copy of Norman at Coles Bookstore in the Beach (2169 Queen St. E., 416-686-7316), or visit normanthebook.webs.com where you can find photos and video of the real Norman.
Not every kid wants to play sports, and well-meaning parents sometimes need to understand that. This is the premise of Erwin Buck’s latest children’s book The Little Boy Who Wouldn’t Kick. When we open the first page, the unnamed little boy is happily set up in his sandbox playing with his earth moving equipment. You can tell he really enjoys this activity because he has all his diggers lined up and ready to go. This is a boy who is going to go into the construction business when he gets older.
Along comes his mom, who needs him to get ready for his soccer practice, and he informs her he’d rather stay and play in the sandbox. Thus the cycle of “you can’t do that now, you have to do this” kicks in, so to speak. The little boy has to keep explaining his wishes to stay playing in the sandbox rather than play soccer to everyone who comes along to try and persuade him otherwise.
The good thing about Buck’s story is that there are no temper tantrums, no screaming, no, “because I said so” moments…just calm reasoning from both sides. And both sides eventually come to a wonderful compromise that makes everyone happy.
This is Erwin Buck’s second children’s book, and features the same little boy who swallowed a whole lake in the first one: The Little Boy Who Swallowed a Lake. Doing the artwork once again is Larry Routliffe. You can order The Little Boy Who Wouldn’t Kick through the website: thelittleboywho.ca. The book is published by Moonback Productions.